WHAT BOOK would Maggie Shipstead bring to a desert island?

  • Maggie Shipstead is currently reading The Far Land by Brandon Presser
  • Novelist would take War And Peace to a desert island
  • All-of-a-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor, was the first to give Maggie the reading bug.

. . . Are you reading this now?

A book that will come out in March next year by a friend of mine, Brandon Presser, who’s a highly accomplished travel writer. It’s called The Far Land: 200 Years Of Murder, Mania And Mutiny In The South Pacific, and it intertwines the history of Pitcairn Island and the mutiny on the Bounty, with an account of the months Brandon spent there in 2018.

It hits a lot my pleasure centres: remote island, then-and-now fiction, historical mysteries, forthright travelogues.

I dreamed about Pitcairn Island my first night of reading.

Novelist Maggie Shipstead (pictured), would take War And Peace to a desert island

Maggie Shipstead (pictured), a novelist, would take War And Peace on a desert island

. . . What would you do on a desert island?

My editor has been urging me to read War and Peace for years. I really want to, because I love long books and Russian books, as well as long, Russian books. There is no reason why I didn’t read it before. And as it has been noted, War And Peace is quite extensive and would keep you busy for a while. So a desert island seems like a great reading spot.

. . . Was it the first time you got the reading bug?

When I was about six, my mum read a children’s novel called All-of-a-Kind Family aloud to me. It’s by Sydney Taylor and was published in 1951 but is set in 1912 on the Lower East Side of New York City.

This story is a loose collection of vignettes about five young Jewish daughters.

I think I’d read one or two other ‘chapter books’ by then, but this was the one I remember really wanting to re-read by myself after hearing it aloud, so that I could have that solitary, luxurious, one-on-one connection with it.

I remember being drawn to the warmth of Taylor’s portrait of family life and also intrigued by the specificity of the era and setting. Although their lives were very different from mine I could still picture and feel the life of the little girls in the book.

. . . left you cold?

Is it annoying to take this question to mean that it is about temperature or cold? Well, it’s all good! I loved The Ice Balloon by Alec Wilkinson, an account of the Swedish explorer S. A. Andrée’s 1897 attempt to reach the North Pole by hot air balloon.

It should come as no surprise that the expedition ended tragically, but Wilkinson treats his subject with great empathy and curiosity, using Andrée’s story as a lens on the sometimes perplexing motivations of explorers and on the incredible harshness of the polar environment. (But also, I hated J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye.)

Maggie Shipstead’S Booker-shortlisted novel Great Circle is published by Doubleday at £16.99.