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Sally Field, Riz Ahmed, Akala and more share their desert island books

If you had to take just one book to a desert island, what would it be?

By Katie McCabe

You’re stranded on a deserted island with nothing to do but read, stare at the sea and exfoliate your legs with loose sand. Sound like your ideal scenario? There’s a catch. You can only bring one book to help you through all those hours of solitude. 

Ahead of Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival, we asked the actors, authors and academics appearing on the 2018 line-up to share their ‘desert island books’. Read on to find out which books Mary Beard, Juno Dawson, Riz Ahmed and Chibundu Onuzo couldn’t live without. 

We give them 20 reads before they start panic-eating the desert island book’s pages...

Illustrator Ruby Taylor

Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival stars pick their desert island books

John Russo

Sally Field

‘If I didn’t have a book entitled “How to Build a Boat When You’re Alone on a Deserted Island”, I’d like to have George Eliot’sMiddlemarch”. I’ve started it many times, but when that agonisingly long section evaluating religion arrives, something else comes up and the book goes down. Perhaps I could finish it if the only thing coming up was the sun.’ Sally will be dicussing her new memoir ‘In Pieces’. Fri Oct 19. £22-£35.

Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené

Yomi Adegoke ‘I’d probably be in as much need of food for thought as actual food. And there is no better “soul food” than Chidera Eggerue’sWhat a Time to Be Alone”. Jam-packed with Igbo proverbs and timely advice, it’s a tome teeming with lessons in self-love. And since I’d no doubt be alone, what better time to celebrate one’s own company?’ 

Elizabeth Uviebinené ‘The book I would take would be “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant. Interesting read; it’s about the characteristics of original thinkers that have shaped the modern world. It’s illuminating and has fresh insight into how some people engage with challenges and difficulties to shift perceptions. Seeing as I’m stranded, I’d need all the inspiration possible to thrive in my new surroundings.’ 

Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené will discuss their new book ‘Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible’. Fri Oct 19. £12.

Steve Ullathorne

Sue Perkins

‘I’m normally a fan of a heavyweight Russian novel, but in this circumstance, it’d be a foolhardy pick. “Crime and Punishment” might enlighten you as to the intricacies of guilt and moral dilemmas, but it isn’t going to help you build a canoe, is it? I think I’d opt for the “SAS Survival Handbook”. That way, I’d have a fighting chance on the island. I’d learn to make a four-storey house out of palm trees and a trampoline from banana leaves, and I’d be as happy as Larry. Sue Perkins will be discussing her new book ‘East of Croydon’. Oct 28. £29.50.

Riz Ahmed

‘I would take “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” – a timeless reminder of our capacity for growth and change, forcing us to recognise our common humanity even in the face of entrenched injustice and struggles.’ Riz Ahmed will be in conversation with writer Mohsin Hamid discussing migration and magic. Oct 28. £18.

Paul Husband


‘I’d like to start by stating for the record that this is an unfair question. However, if I was stranded and could only take one book, it would be the “Tao Te Ching”, an ancient book of Chinese wisdom supposedly composed by the sage Lao Tzu (the Stephen Mitchell translation). The book contains unimaginable wisdom about how to live life and its metaphoric language invites countless interpretations to keep the mind wandering and thinking for a lifetime.’ Akala will be speaking to historian David Olusoga about race, modern British history and his book ‘Natives’. Sat Oct 20. £10-£30.

Caterina Turroni

Mary Beard

‘Obviously I would choose Homer’s “Odyssey” – partly because it is a story all about trying to get back home, partly because (although composed almost 3,000 years ago) it contains some of the most profound reflections ever written on notions of identity, morality and the contested clash between so-called “civilisation” and “barbarity”. I also have to admit that it contains the earliest recorded example in Western literature of a man telling a woman to shut up.’ Mary Beard will be taking part in a panel discussion about Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ (the theme of this year’s London Literature Festival) ahead of a dramatic live reading. Sun Oct 21. £15.


Chibundu Onuzo

‘If I had access to tools like a saw, a hammer and nails, I would take “Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction” by Howard I Chapelle. The online reviews assure me that it is the last word in boat building. If there are no tools on said desert island, I would take “Segu” by Maryse Condé. This generational family saga has so many layers that I can read and reread it, in between figuring out how to build a raft.’ Writer Chibundu Onuzo will share the story of her life through song and dance with a world exclusive performance of ‘1991’. Sun Oct 21. £12.

Juno Dawson

‘I’d take “Noughts & Crosses” by Malorie Blackman. Not only was this dystopian retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” the novel that inspired me to write my first young adult title, I really think it transcends genre. It has everything, action, heartbreak and romance, but is also a very clever dissection of racism and privilege.’ Juno Dawson will join Robert Muchamore and Melvin Burgess to discuss young adult fiction as part of Southbank Centre’s YA Day. Oct 27. £12 day pass, £9 concs.


Need more books in your life? Pay London’s libraries a visit


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