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Desert Island Lit | Episode 3 (BooksNest)

Beth | BooksNest

Beth is an award-winning blogger and BookTuber.

She also writes about mental health, blogging & social media tips, feminism, sex positivity and travel.

As one of my favourite content creators, it’s an absolute pleasure to host her.

Welcome to Desert Island Lit. In this episode, I’m thrilled to be joined by the delightful Beth of BooksNest.

In this series, I ask my guests to pick five – and only five – books to take with them to the Island of Absurdia. A solitary island where one whiles away their days in joyful isolation, accompanied only by their favourite literature!

Swept away on an existential tide, Beth finds herself in solitary confinement on the Isle of Absurdia.

And because we’re on the Isle of Absurdia, our esteemed guest will, as always, receive a copy of The Myth of Sisyphus and a luxury item of their choice. In this case, she’s picked a cinema popcorn machine – large but of course necessary.

Beth's Desert Island Lit Picks

Is anyone surprised… probably not.

I have a few reasons for picking this book, not only is it huge and therefore would take me a good chunk of time to read, but also there’s so much to discover from it in each reread. I feel I could read it as a different book each time which would be an excellent source of entertainment for me. There are so many messages in Tolkien’s books and I love the way we all read them differently. 

The world of The Lord of the Rings has been with me ever since the first film came out when I was a child. I loved the elves the very best; their elegant movements and skill with a bow and arrow. My grandad actually made me my very own bow and arrow so I could be like Legolas in a nearby forest.

In short, this world has been with me since childhood and will be with me for my whole life I expect. It’s something I have a very personal connection with on quite a few levels. 

It wasn’t until a few years ago I first read the books, which I think was the perfect time for me to read them and love them. I’m already considering a reread, so it’s a good thing this tome would be with me on a desert island! I loved comparing the books to the films, of which the films have stayed incredibly true. And seeing my favourite characters come to life in a whole new way.

I’m sure there are better yoga books out there – but this is the one on my shelves. If I’m going to be abandoned on an island, I’d like to find some zen and get really good at something that will help my body and mind. I’ve always enjoyed yoga, but I’ve never dedicated enough time to get particularly good at it, so I guess this would be my time! 

I find exercising is always something I think negatively about, despite the good it does for me. But there is something about yoga that makes me hate it a little less. The release it gives when your muscles start to stretch and your body feels more open, is quite brilliant. 

It pains me to give away a perfectly good slot to a book about exercise, but I think I’d thank myself for it.

This has quickly become one of my favourite books. I read it in 2020 and it’s stayed with me ever since. This is a book about a man who can bring the characters from other books out of their pages and into the real world. This is based around books we would know and love, such as Matilda and The Chronicles of Narnia

It follows two brothers within its story, the magical brother and the one trying to help. We’re following the latter as he tries to get to the bottom of something much larger at play. Along this journey we see a fictional street being created where all of these fictional characters can live together. Seeing them interact with each other and be so true to their original depictions, is any fiction lover’s dream!  

The reason I’ve picked this, other than it being absolutely excellent, is also because it’s almost like getting multiple books for the price of one. Because this book features characters from childhood and adult classics alike, it feels like you’re also getting the familiarity of those books too. It’s a rather lovely experience to rediscover these characters in new ways and see what adventures they dive into in The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep.

I was wracking my brain to think of books that would cover a range of genres, so far we’ve had high fantasy, contemporary fantasy, exercise (uhh exercise), so it was about time for a historical romance. 

If you haven’t heard of this book then perhaps you’ve been living on a desert island because it is AMAZING. It follows the life of Evelyn Hugo, a Hollywood starlet in the 50’s onwards as she experiences rises and falls in her career and also seven marriages along the way. This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is brilliantly written, captivating and tender, tense and emotional, it has everything an amazing work of fiction needs to keep its readers hooked. So I think it would keep me endlessly entertained on a desert island. 

I remember my first (and only – so far) read of this book was in the autumn of 2018. I listened to it as an audiobook on my way to and from work and I can still remember the feeling of listening to it every day. It became the anthem for my commute and gave me something to look forward to each time I drove my car. It really is a book with an atmosphere that just stays with you so perfectly – how could I not pick it for this list?!

I thought long and hard about my final book for this list, especially trying to pick a stand alone vs a book in a series I’d never be able to finish stranded on this island.

There was a lot in contention, but I wanted something long enough to entertain me for a while, and something that felt warm and wholesome. I went for Little Women in the end, a book I only very recently read for the first time, in December 2021. 

I wouldn’t say it’s a favourite book of mine, but it’s in this list for one simple reason. It feels like home. 

My logic being, if I’m stuck alone on this island I’m of course going to be homesick, I’d yearn for family and friends, for companionship and for traditions and festivities. Little Women is pretty much the first book I thought of that had all of these things. It’s pages are filled with the stories of the March sisters and their lives as they grow from girls to young women. I know I could turn to any chapter and feel comforted by their stories. 

I think this book really resonated with me because it follows four very different paths these sisters take. I’m at a crossroad in life at the moment where I’m seeing a lot of friends my age go on to do very different things to those I am achieving and it can often feel strange. But for me, Little Women reminded me we all have our different routes in life and it doesn’t make them any less valid if they’re not the route everyone else is taking. 

Also having seen the recent film adaptation, I think I could picture this in my head too and have an even more visual reading experience. So really, this book would be like bringing a film with me too.

Big thanks to Beth for getting involved – it’s been a genuine pleasure to host one of the UK’s most popular BookTubers on the blog.

Let me know what you think of her selections in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out her blog, Patreon, and social channels 👇

Desert Island Lit | Episode 2 (Ross Lowe)

Ross Lowe Desert Island Lit Blog Header

Ross Lowe

Ross is a copywriter, author, and man of culture.*

His debut novel Step Forward, Harry Salt was released in early December, 2021.

*(Supporter of Derby County Football Club).

Welcome to Episode 2 of Desert Island Lit.

In this series, I ask my guests to pick five – and only five – books to take with them to the Island of Absurdia. A solitary island where one whiles away their days in joyful isolation, accompanied only by their favourite literature!

This episode’s guest is Ross Lowe, a freelance copywriter and published author with the excellent Bearded Badger Publishing Co. 

You can read more about his debut novel, Step Forward Harry Salt on the publisher’s website.

Ross's Journey to The Islands of Absurdia...

Ross has been swept away on an existential tide and finds himself in solitary confinement on the Isle of Absurdia.

And because we’re on the Isle of Absurdia, our esteemed guest will receive a copy of absurdist classic The Myth of Sisyphus, and a luxury item of his choice. In this case, Ross has chosen a coffee machine.

I’m stuffed without a decent cup of coffee in the morning, plus I always enjoy reading that little more with a nice drink to hand. So. A coffee maker. I just hope this desert island has power. And milk. And a fridge. Eek.
Ross Lowe, Author of Step Forward, Harry Salt

Ross Lowe's Desert Island Lit Picks

It was 1996 and I was in my second year at university when my housemate Martin gave me his copy of this book to read.

I’d not long seen the movie Trainspotting, based on Welsh’s first novel, which had absolutely knocked me sideways. I remember thinking how incredible it was to see a British film that stood head and shoulders above everything else at the time in terms of storyline, characters, direction – even the soundtrack – and wasn’t pandering to the needs of American audiences like so many things seemed to do back then. 

It was fiery, frightening and grim but a beautifully real and experimental piece of work and such a culture shift. At least, it felt like that to this excitable 19-year-old. But I can’t think of a moment in cinema that has affected me and so many others in a way like that since. Everyone had the poster of Ewan McGregor with the ‘Choose life’ mantra on their walls, or felt something whenever Born Slippy came on in a club.

ANYWAY. Off the back of all that, Martin gave me Marabou Stork Nightmares, Welsh’s second novel, to read. Again, I was excited by its grim rawness and loved getting my head into the world (or worlds, in this case) that he built. It’s a very experimental novel once again, this time from the point of view of a man in a coma, struggling to deal with the conflict caused by the real world above the surface, and the fantasy world in which he exists while unconscious down below, hunting for the elusive marabou stork. 

I loved the way he played with the text in this novel, the sinking and rising of his consciousness represented visually with the words (incidentally another book that does this brilliantly is The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall which, randomly, according to the very last page, appeared to be set in Spondon, a place just up the road from where I was brought up in Derbyshire.) 

To me, the in-your-face delivery and unorthodox visual style, along with the fact that I had to work at getting my tongue around the dialogue (written in Edinburgh Scots dialect) made for a reading experience unlike any other I’d had up until then.

I can recall a lot about Marabou Stork Nightmares quite vividly, including how I felt when reading it, despite the fact I haven’t picked it up again since (it wasn’t my book after all, and I think Martin might’ve been a little pissed off if I didn’t give it back).

So, this one is coming to the seaside with me so that I can experience it all over again and see if it still has that impact, while finding out if it really is as good as I seem to remember it.

This is the fourth book in the fantastic series ‘The Dark is Rising’ by Susan Cooper.

I read the series in completely the wrong order to begin with, but it didn’t matter. I started with The Dark is Rising (book 2) and then went to this one, before going back to the start and reading all five in sequence.

I bought The Grey King second-hand for the lofty sum of 20p from a small seaside café at Osmington Mills in Dorset on a family holiday when I was about 10 or 11, and devoured it in days.

There are so many things I love about this book. There’s a really dark, unsettling mood that runs through every page which I totally loved and it had me gripped from the beginning. It probably goes some way to explaining why I eventually grew up to be an ardent Radiohead fan.

Susan Cooper describes the Welsh landscape as if it’s alive, breathing and seething to a point where even the weather appears conscious. Will and his new-found friend Bran are two boys caught in the middle of something much bigger and more terrifying than they can possibly imagine, something that spans history and the universal powers of the Light and Dark. 

Set in the modern day it felt so relatable to me back then; the boys were my age and having adventures that, although supernatural, felt completely real and possible thanks to Cooper’s ability to treat young readers with respect while not shying away from scaring the willies out of them. 

I have read and re-read The Dark is Rising sequence so many times over the years and its power over me is undiminished. This book is by far the best of the five for my money (20 pence, for heavens sakes! Bargain!)

This book turned my world, my universe even, upside down. My Mum bought it for me to take on holiday when I was around 11 or 12 I think, and she said “I think you’ll like this.”

Mum, you nailed it. Thank you.

As a kid I was very much into surreal comedy; the weirder, dafter or more subversive the better. My parents plied me with the stuff: from Monty Python, Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers through to Kenny Everett. I was also mad keen on anything to do with space, so when this book landed on my lap I gobbled it up.

I love the fact that, as I’ve grown older, the book has grown with me, so that I’ve uncovered and appreciated more and more every time I’ve read it. All the facets of the human condition (particularly the more dreadful or interminable ones) are here, each disguised as a planet or race of beings: the Vogons are defined by bureaucracy and terrible poetry, while another race subscribes to a religion that says the universe was sneezed out of the nose of a creature called The Great Green Arkleseizure, while they subsequently live in perpetual fear of a time called The Coming of The Great White Handkerchief. 

There are characters with names like Magikthise and Vroomfondel. A quest to understand the ultimate question of Life, The Universe and Everything. And at the middle of it all, a completely normal bloke from Somerset called Arthur Dent who just wanted his house to not be demolished, and thought his friend Ford Prefect was from Guildford (and not, as it turns out, from a planet in the vicinity of the star Betelgeuse).

Just wonderful and again, a book I can read over and over and totally lose myself in every time.

This little gem is much more recent, and something I enjoyed for the first time earlier this year. I’d heard plenty of chatter about it in the more bookish quarters of social media, and after reading the blurb I thought I’d give it a spin.

I’m really glad that I did.

On the surface, it doesn’t sound particularly remarkable – a story about gentle folk, in particular two thirty-something men who are each still living with their parents (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, alright?) while trying to navigate 21st century life.

But, right from the amazing first line (which has to rank as one the best openings to a book ever EVER), this amiable little novel both soothes and amuses while still managing to ensure you care deeply about the two misfit protagonists. Rónán Hession clearly cares about them, and never patronises either of them when it would be all too easy to go down that road. As such, we care too: we really want them to be okay.

I was chatting recently to Paul Handley, the hairy genius at Bearded Badger Publishing, when he told me that he felt this book should be available as an NHS prescription. I’d say that’s a fair wish. It is medicinal, and for that reason I’d want a copy of Leonard & Hungry Paul with me on a desert island. For even if I was miles away from anyone and everyone, the knowledge that they, and people like them, are out there quietly doing their thing, would be enough to make me feel better about the world.

I have Hession’s latest book Panenka in my pile of books to be read, and I’m looking forward to seeing how much time he spends discussing Wayne Rooney’s cheeky chipped penalty for Derby County against Fulham at Pride Park in 2020.

My suspicion is that it won’t be a lot, as he’s a Watford fan anyway.

Right, here’s a really personal one for you. My Shoulder to the Wheel is the autobiography of Welsh author, poet, journalist and editor Meic Stephens who was, among a great many other great things, my journalism lecturer during my three years at the University of Glamorgan back in the mid-to-late 90s.

Out of all the teachers I was ever lucky enough to learn from (and I owe a lot to so many), Meic is the one that always pops up in my consciousness for all kinds of reason and at all kinds of moments. He truly inspired me, and a couple of years ago I felt compelled to google him and see how he was, and was sad to learn he’d passed away in 2018. However, I was glad to see that he’d written his autobiography.

He instilled in me and the rest of his students the need for seeking truth; not just in news reporting but in being true to one’s self, and following your heart. He was quietly spoken but a very passionate man, proud not only of his Welsh heritage and the language of his country but also of his more immediate locality (the university campus in which he taught me in Treforest, Pontypridd, was only a couple of streets away from the very house in which he was born). He was worldly-wise too, living for periods in the French town of Brittany and also Utah, USA.

There’s a famous piece of graffiti that appeared in the 1960s on the wall of a ruined cottage in Ceredigion that reads Cofiwch Dryweryn (“Remember Tryweryn”), in response to the decision to flood the Tryweryn Valley to create a reservoir to supply the city of Liverpool, over the border in England. 

It was sanctioned for Liverpool City Council by Westminster despite numerous protests and without the consent of Welsh authorities. As such, many centuries-old communities including Capel Celyn were lost forever under water. It turns out it was young Meic himself that scrawled the graffiti, which has since gone on to become a prominent slogan in Welsh politics and a bit of a mid-Wales landmark. Thanks to Meic, Tryweryn has never been forgotten, which is pretty cool.

And for extra coolness points, he’s also the father of the brilliant radio DJ Huw Stephens, and uncle of Super Furry Animals leader and utterly unpredictable musician Gruff Rhys. When he revealed his family link to Gruff in one lecture, he sang the opening to “If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You”, which caused me and my dear friend Claire Heat to slide off of our chairs in paroxysms of joy. He gave us a very cheeky smile and seemed very pleased with our response and we still talk about that, and him, to this day. I have very fond memories of my time in Wales, and a lot of love for the Valleys and the people there. It’s a magical place, with real soul.

So for me, I’d take this book with me to remember someone I was lucky enough to be directly inspired by, and to remind myself to stay true, never give up, never let the bastards win and always try to give of my best. Cheers, Meic.

A massive thank you to Ross for getting involved with Desert Island Lit. Do considering checking out his debut novel, Step Forward, Harry Salt.

And if you’d like to know more about this episode’s guest, do check out his website and Twitter below.

Desert Island Lit | Episode 1 (Ria Amber Tesia)

Ria Amber Tesia

Ria is an author, blogger, journalist, and food critic. An all rounded individual, she works in marketing and has a passion for literature, cooking, and political PR.

Welcome to the first ever Desert Island Lit!

In this series, I ask my guests to pick five – and only five – books to take with them to the Island of Absurdia. A solitary island where one whiles away their days in joyful isolation, accompanied only by their favourite literature! 

I’m absolutely thrilled to begin this brand new feature with Ria Amber Tesia – an author, journalist, food critic, and now a good friend. We first met on LinkedIn as fellow marketeers and realised we had an absolute shedload in common – not least our passion for literature!

Ria published her debut novel, Screaming Snowflakes, in 2012 and is currently working on a sequel. You can find out more about her literary and culinary pursuits at riaambertesia.com.

Let’s begin…

Ria's Journey to The Islands of Absurdia...

Ria has been swept away on an existential tide and finds herself in solitary confinement on the Isle of Absurdia.

And because we’re on the Isle of Absurdia, our esteemed guest will receive a copy of The Myth of Sisyphus and a luxury item of their choice – in this case being her prized Vivienne Westwood gladiator platform sandals!

Desert Island Lit Picks

1) A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

a little princess burnett book cover

This is my favourite book of all time.

I first came across this book aged 10 years old, when I was a precocious young ‘un, and always keen to read and learn more about a different time. I knew it was special right off the bat when I got sucked into the narrative, within minutes of reading.

I really identified with the imaginative and strong Sara Crewe, because she was a role model for me. It’s that misconception that being an analytical creative is an oxymoron, because you surely can’t be both, right? Growing up, you were either into sciences or the creative subjects like English Literature, drama and writing.

Sara Crewe gave me hope that I can be both and embrace both aspects – that of being analytical and creative – to become an awesome human being.

This is the oldest book on my bookshelf. The battered paperback looks out of place, but not having it on the bookshelf is non-negotiable. I must have read the book at least 100 times and here’s to another 100 times.

2) Asma’s Indian Kitchen by Asma Khan

I had to buy this book two years’ ago when I came across Asma’s cooking whilst she was doing a food demo on a cooking show on TV. She is the founder and vivacious proprietor of Darjeeling Express, one of London’s finest restaurants.

I remember thinking “Wow, who is this bird whose passion for food is so infectious, that it makes me want to drop everything and start a cookalong with her?” Her cookbook is accessible, beautiful and doubles up as a coffee table book.

I love cooking. Whenever I want a cooking ‘jhzuzz’, if I don’t really know what to cook during my weekly meal-planning Saturday evening session, then Asma’s book is one of the first that I read.

I must have picked up and read, and cooked from Asma’s book around 30+ times, and I am now at that stage where I can cook some of her recipes without referring to her book.

Result!

3) The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

I read this book last year because it seemed to be everywhere.

Psychological thrillers are one of my favourite genres, and this one didn’t disappoint. It is one of those rare books, that despite knowing the ending, I have gone to reread. It is expertly written, and perfectly ratchets up the tension so subtly, it really hits you over the head when you do get the nuances.

This is possibly a book that rivals The Sixth Sense in terms of shock ending. Characters are well drawn out, and the people you rooted for at the beginning, completely do a 180 so that your allegiances and loyalty also switch. A very clever, taut plot that will keep you hooked, which is why this book should be studied in syllabuses across the world, because it really is a masterpiece.

It is always a little tricky trying to expound the plot of a thriller, without giving too much away. Suffice to say, the author lures you in, holds you hostage to your emotions, then delivers that killer sweet release. A must read.

4) Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

This is my first book by this author, which is when I fell in love with Hercule Poirot and her Agatha Christie’s writing. Hercule Poirot was also my first literary crush, it’s all about “those little grey cells”.

I discovered Poirot at primary school, I must have been around 11 years old. The way the characters just leapt off the page into fully formed, 3D characters, felt like magic.

I’ve read this book a few times, and I always try to catch the TV dramatisation whenever it airs, because the TV adaptation is really loyal to the book. I do love Agatha Christie’s writing, it feels like an old soul is writing about old, bygone times, and I really love this.

This book reminds me of childhood and the joy of discovering new authors and new writing. I think the book strikes a chord with me, because I also love history (why didn’t I study it at uni?!).

5) The Blair Years: The Alastair Campbell Diaries

I have always been intrigued by political PR, an interest which has matured and continues to do so, this past decade.

This book by Alastair Campbell casts a light on the inner workings of a political mind and office, and gives me a greater understanding behind the decision-making process of optics and policy.

Campbell is a divisive figure, yet his books are informative and entertain. I loved reading about the instances that really got behind the scenes of a lean, mean, political PR machine. I found the long running feud between Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown jaw-dropping to discover.

To learn more about key players of that time who strode the corridors of power is nothing short of fascinating. This book continues to inform and entertain, 14 years after publication.

A massive thank you to Ria for taking part in this debut edition of
Desert Island Lit! 
And if you’d like to know more about this episode’s guest, do check out her social channels below.