Long Island Books and Short Island Books

There’s something about islands that make them an important part of some fiction.

They can be the settings for romance, vacation, adventure, murder, intrigue, etc. — and the often-isolated nature of islands adds drama to all kinds of story lines.

Given that today is Valentine’s Day, we’ll start with romance. In L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Island, Anne Shirley continues to deny her feelings for Gilbert Blythe until… I would add that much of Montgomery’s wonderful fiction is set on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, where her characters fall in love, experience heartache, and more.

Then there’s Bernard, the British protagonist in David Lodge’s Paradise News who travels to Hawaii for family reasons but finds unexpected romance there with an American woman named Yolande.

Things are a bit more complicated in M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, in which the new marriage between Isabel and lighthouse keeper Tom Sherbourne changes radically after a baby washes up on shore. The very plot of the novel probably wouldn’t have worked without an island being that couple’s home.

Islands as the place for adventure? That’s the case with books such as Herman Melville’s Typee and Omoo, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island.

Speaking of mysterious, islands are also a classic setting for some mystery novels.

For instance, when I read P.D. James’ The Lighthouse last week, I noticed that having the murders committed on a sparsely populated island conveniently limited the number of suspects — all of whom lived within close proximity of the victims (the first of whom was a much-disliked novelist!).

Also, what might be Agatha Christie’s most famous mystery — And Then There Were None — takes place on an island where the guests get bumped off one by one. Hard to run for help when you can’t get away.

Vile experiments are conducted in the title locale of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. Also negative is how the innocent Edmond Dantes is jailed for years in the Chateau d’If rocky island prison until he ingeniously finds a way to swim to safety and then plots his epic revenge against the men who framed him in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

Dumas’ earlier Georges novel was set on Isle de France (now the island nation of Mauritius). Besides being exciting, the book is also known for being the only work by the part-African-descended author to focus on race and racism.

The setting of Aldous Huxley’s Island is remote and self-contained enough to allow for an experiment in forming a utopian society that’s quite the contrast with the dystopian world of Huxley’s more famous Brave New World.

And we can’t forget novels in which the protagonists are stuck on an uninhabited island — with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe perhaps the most famous example. Oh, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, in which a stranded bunch of boys behave very badly.

What are you favorite novels and stories set partly or completely on an island? Heck, you can also discuss islands on the screen — in the Cast Away movie, the Gilligan’s Island sitcom, the Enemy at the Door miniseries, etc.!

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

130 thoughts on “Long Island Books and Short Island Books

  1. My Last Island Comment:

    In a very old letter, found by accident, a doctor makes reference to his family’s vacation site: Last Island (now disappeared beneath the waves).

    wiki: “Last Island (Official name: Isle Dernière, often misspelled as Îsle Dernière, Isle Dernier, L’Îsle Dernière, Île Dernière, etc. ) was a barrier island and a pleasure resort southwest of New Orleans on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, USA. It was destroyed by the Last Island Hurricane of August 10, 1856. Over 200 people perished in the storm, and the island was left void of vegetation.”

    And where was this mentioned? In the novel Grail Nights by Amanda Moores!

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  2. Beautiful Isle of Somewhere

    Somewhere the sun is shining somewhere the songbirds dwell
    Hush then your sad repining God lives and all is well

    Somewhere somewhere beautiful isle of somewhere
    Land of the truth where we live anew beautiful isle of somewhere

    Somewhere the load is lifted close by an open gate
    Somewhere the clouds are rifted somewhere the angels wait

    Somewhere somewhere beautiful isle of somewhere…

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  3. UK Female detective writer M.C. Beaton has made a series of short novels featuring Hamish MacBeth, a small-time small town Scottish policeman, which though no great shakes, are pleasant to read and nicely turned out.

    Death of a Snob takes place on an island, with the usual island implications: limited access and egress, a finite number of possible suspects (assuming no clandestine boat trips), and friction between locals and outsiders. I give it five Little Indians (a Christie ref).

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    • Yes, islands do lend themselves quite well to mystery novels. And a nice Agatha Christie reference indeed! I think of that Christie novel as “And Then There Were None,” but it did indeed also have the mildly un-PC title “Ten Little Indians” as well as a very racist title that will go unmentioned here.

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  4. Adolfo Bioy Casares, Argentinian writer (and frequent collaborator with Borges) set his most famous work on an island of phantoms wrought by a Dr. Morel’s specialized technology. Sez wiki:

    “The best-known novel by Bioy Casares is La invención de Morel (The Invention of Morel). It is the story of a man who, evading justice, escapes to an island said to be infected with a mysterious fatal disease. Struggling to understand why everything seems to repeat, he realizes that all the people he sees there are actually recordings, made with a special machine, invented by Morel, which is able to record not only three-dimensional images, but also voices and scents, making it all indistinguishable from reality. The story mixes realism, fantasy, science fiction and terror. Borges wrote a famous prologue in which he called it a work of “reasoned imagination” and linked it to H. G. Wells’ oeuvre. Both Borges and Octavio Paz described the novel as “perfect.” The story is held to be the inspiration for Alan Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad[1] and also an influence on the TV series Lost.”

    For a more complete description, see:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Invention_of_Morel

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    • Wow — “The Invention of Morel” sounds outstanding, jhNY! Terrific description. (I have a vague memory of you discussing that novel once before; if so, I’m very glad you brought it up again. 🙂 ) Will definitely try to read it.

      As for Borges, I read a collection of his short stories a couple of years ago, and was totally enthralled.

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  5. Hi Dave, I forgot to mention one of the great pieces of literature (and I’m not sure if anyone else mentioned it) but “The Odyssey” by Homer, which mentions many islands Odysseus encountered on his ten-year long journey home from the Trojan Wars. I had to read it for some course in college; I even took a full year of Ancient Greek, but not much of either stuck with me, sad to say.
    There is another P.D. James novel set on an island, which is “The Skull Beneath the Skin,” featuring Cordelia Gray. I think both of her first two mysteries featured Cordelia (the first of which was “An Unsuitable Job for a Woman”). I was always a little disappointed that she switched over to Adam Dalgliesh as her main character, as fascinating as he is.
    Going back to childhood books, there was “Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry. I also found on my bookshelves “Cherry Ames, Island Nurse” and “The Bobbsey Twins on Blueberry Island.” Knowing these aren’t great literature, but I sure enjoyed them when I was in grade school or as a “tween.”

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    • “The Odyssey” hadn’t been mentioned before, Kat Lib. Glad you brought it up, and that Homer work fits perfectly into this theme! It’s a work I’ve unfortunately never read.

      And thanks for mentioning all those other books, including children ones and the non-Adam Dalgliesh mystery by P.D. James. It’s admirable when mystery writers create more than one protagonist during their careers.

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    • My mother grew up on the Eastern Shore of VA, and knew the Beebe family. My sister and I met a foal of Misty’s– pretty sure it was Stormy– at their farm when we visited in the early ’60’s, and of course, my mother read the Misty book aloud to us prior to our visit. But that was more than 50 years ago, so my memory it all has dimmed somewhat. I do recall seeing the ponies rounded up that year by the local fire department and led through the water.

      Life for the wild ponies was and is a bit of an ordeal. When I visited the Shore last, in the ’90’s, none were visible. it was summer, and a hot one, and all the ponies had taken refuge in various wallows and shallows in the woods, so as to keep themselves from being entirely ravaged by the mosquitoes which hovered in clouds wherever the wind was weak.

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  6. I am rereading The Charterhouse of Parma, and came upon a sort of island there:

    “The Contessa wished to land in the midst of the hurricane and pealing thunder; she insisted that, if she were to climb to a rock that stood up by itself in the middle of the lake and was the size of a small room, she would enjoy a curious spectacle; she would see herself assailed on all sides by raging waves…”

    — Stendahl (Moncrieff translation)

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      • Me, I read it a mere 4 years ago– and so, needed to reread it to retain anything beyond my impression of speedy wit and sophisticated knowing in the service of romance. For a while, I also reading it in two different translations– each different from the one I read 4 years ago– but I’ve landed on a favorite (Moncrieff) and only read the Oxford edition when the Moncrieff confuses (and sometimes, the confusion persists).

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  7. Hi Dave,
    The first book I thought of was “Lord of the Flies”. And if I recall correctly, the niece or granddaughter who went missing in “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was abducted or murdered on an island? If I am remembering it right, it was clever of Larsson to limit the possibilities of what might have happened. If I’m not remembering it right, I’m probably giving Larsson too much credit!

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    • “Lord of the Flies” — definitely, Susan! What a nightmarish island book.

      I think you’re right about “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”! Investigating that “event” was journalist Mikael Blomkvist’s post-prison assignment and, if I’m remembering right, the way he initially met the amazing computer hacker Lisbeth Salander? Great mention! I loved that Stieg Larsson novel, and the entire trilogy.

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  8. Just think: if Ernest Hemingway hadn’t left a certain sea trilogy manuscript behind, we might never have known what it would be like to hear Kenny Rodgers and Dolly Parton duet over a song by the brothers Gibb!

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  9. When Prospero’s isle of Enchantment was launched into space by clever screenwriters, it became Walter Pidgeon’s habitat, though he shared the place with Ann Francis and the Krell, plus an id monster. I refer, of course, to the movie Forbidden Planet, a sci-fi gem, a brilliant zircon.

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  10. Dave,
    I read a couple of great books with island tie-ins recently. This first was the mystery “Castle Cay” where a small island held an important clue. The second was “Red Right Turn” an adventure story staring a sea plan pilot who lives on Key West and hops around the islands of the Caribbean.

    Both of these stories involve the non-US islands even though most of the story takes place in the US. They were fun stories even if the main character in “Red Right Turn” wasn’t far evolved from the lead characters found in the books pulp predecessors.

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    • Thanks, GL, for mentioning and nicely describing those two island-related books! It’s interesting how an island setting can lend itself to everything from literary fiction to pulpy-type stories/characters.

      By the way, I’m currently reading Terry Pratchett, the author you highly recommended, for the first time. His “Unseen Academicals” is SO funny and well-done. A very different wizard world than the one in “Harry Potter.” 🙂

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    • Thank you, Roz! “Anne of Green Gables” IS a fabulous book, and its sequels are pretty good, too. I also haven’t visited PEI, but would like to. L.M. Montgomery described the island so evocatively in her fiction — the “Anne” books, the “Emily” books, etc. I think her excellent grown-up rather than YA novel “The Blue Castle” is one of Montgomery’s few works that doesn’t have a PEI setting.

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  11. Hi Dave, I’ve been a bit under the weather today, so I’m just finally getting back to reading the blog I love best! I made the mistake of reading this nonsense the Republicans are trying to pull over Obama selecting a successor for Scalia, which just made me feel sicker. Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed the P.D. James mystery, and I agree with Clairdelune that she is one of the most literate of mystery writers (I’d include Dorothy L. Sayers in that as well). Agatha Christie also wrote another novel set on an island, “A Caribbean Mystery,” featuring the wonderful Miss Marple. There’s something to be said for setting a crime on an island, as it does generally limit the number of suspects.

    One book that I really enjoyed was “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” by Annie Barrows. It was mostly set on that island which was occupied by the Germans during WWII.

    And although these were non-fiction books, you know how much I love Gerald Durrell’s books about his family (and other and animals) on Corfu as a youngster. There are also his books about the zoo (and conservation breeding facility) that he founded on the island of Jersey.

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    • Sorry you’ve been sick, Kat Lib. Welcome back, and thanks for the kind words about the blog. 🙂

      Yes, the Republicans trying to obstruct ANY Obama Supreme Court pick — even before a specific nominee gets named — is beyond disgusting. I really hope it backfires on them. So much for the GOP’s alleged respect for the U.S. Constitution.

      Great mentions by you of mystery novels and other books! I was very impressed with “The Lighthouse,” and for all I know it might not even be one of P.D. James’ better novels. Adam Dalgliesh had a somewhat smaller role than I expected, but his two investigator subordinates were interesting.

      Gerald Durrell’s nonfiction “My Family and Other Animals” was so funny, quirky, and compelling!

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    • Wow — that’s a fascinating link. All new to me. Thanks, jshupac! (And glad you enjoyed my post!)

      “Island” isn’t Huxley’s best novel by any means, but it’s very readable and interesting and uplifting. Published just a year before the author’s 1963 death. Hope you like the book! And seeing an island on a cover might make me buy a novel, too. 🙂

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  12. “I would add that much of Montgomery’s wonderful fiction is set on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, where her characters fall in love, experience heartache, and more.”

    Prince Edward Island has a small but important literary scene. Most authors write about maritime and seafaring adventures.

    PEI and Atlantic Canada as a whole has an environment that encourages creativity and imagination. I can’t begin to describe how blissful it is to sit on a beach in Nova Scotia or on PEI with a good book. It is so easy to let your mind wander. Of course, this feeling can happen anywhere, but there is something about PEI/maritime Canada that makes this reading experience so unique…

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    • Such great thoughts about PEI and its environs, Ana! If you want, Canada’s tourist office has a job waiting for you. 🙂 Getting to PEI for an L.M. Montgomery-ish visit is on my travel bucket list. The closest I’ve gotten is Quebec City.

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      • The walking tours are nice. You can either go with a group, or get a map and set out on your own adventure. I think you would enjoy that trip.

        That second career in tourism and marketing doesn’t sound too bad. I mean, who knows how long this whole medicine/healthcare thing is gonna last…

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        • Ha! If Donald Trump becomes president, America’s health-care system will become totally unnecessary. Doctors will just tell even the sickest people to “watch two Trump videos and call me in the morning.” All will be cured.

          As for Prince Edward Island, the new “Anne of Green Gables” production (with Martin Sheen as Matthew) might make that wonderful place even more of a tourist destination.

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            • Great point, Ana. I can’t imagine a better Matthew Cuthbert than Richard Farnsworth. As you say, Martin Sheen is an excellent actor, but he would not be anywhere near the top of my mental list of who could best play Matthew.

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          • Interestingly, I visited the Atlantic Provinces last summer. I was actually in a pub in Charlottetown, PEI (which, by the way, had some wonderful local craft beer, along with delicious Malpeque oysters) while the television was showing Trump announcing that was running for President. Our waitress, who somehow implicitly knew we were U.S. citizens, asked “What is wrong with you people from the States”. I assured her that Trump was going nowhere. Apparently, I was wrong. So now I, too, ask the same question, “What’s wrong with us Americans”.

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            • Nice to hear from you, drb! And that’s a great anecdote you related!

              It’s always valuable to get an outside perspective on America, and, as you note, the U.S. must seem totally bonkers to many people in other countries. Trump has never held political office and has said all kinds of vile things, yet comfortably leads the Republican presidential race. Of course, his support comes from a minority of America’s population, but apparently not as small a minority as we would like. 😦

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  13. Years ago, I read an animal fantasy series set on Madagascar. “Fellowship of the Ringtails” is about a society of lemurs living in a topsy-turvy kingdom with political upheaval, death, social disorder, division of social classes, and life lessons for a young female lemur named Aurelia. It is easy to forget the characters are lemurs and not people because of the human behaviour they demonstrate. The author Angela Oliver humanised these lemurs similar to the way George Orwell did to the animals in Animal Farm.

    Madagascar is home to several exotic animals and species. The lemur is a very mysterious group that has fascinated animal lovers, zoologists, and biologists for years. I think this series perfectly captures not only the island’s culture, but the entire social structure of lemurs.

    And I can’t omit Junot Diaz. Even though “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is set in Paterson, NJ, the majority of the flashbacks and backstories of Oscar’s family take place on Hispaniola.

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    • Two great literary mentions, Ana! Thank you!

      Part of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” indeed takes place in the Dominican Republic, and some of it is harrowing. Plus, as you know, that novel’s amazing footnotes have a lot of info on that nation’s history of being under the brutal boot of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

      “Fellowship of the Ringtails” does sound fascinating and reminiscent of “Animal Farm.” It’s impressive when authors can make critters seem human-like and compelling as book characters. Jack London was also excellent at that in “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang.” Wonderful description by you of the “Ringtails” series, its setting, and its lemurs!

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      • The footnotes could probably be published separately as a type of historical reference. Great research on the political and social complexities of Haitians and Dominicans, which provides a better understanding of the infamous Trujillo regime.

        And even today, it’s obvious those wounds have not fully healed.

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    • I am horrible with geography. I was about to ask you what was Hispaniola, but googled it instead. Did not know it is the name of the island group that is made up of Dominican Republic and Haiti.

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        • It’s older, that name, having its greatest era of use when the place was undivided– except as between whoever remained of the native Taino, and the Spanish– Columbus landed there, founding the colony (Hispaniola means the Spanish island)– but it was the French, eventually, who really got the place, or its portion of it (ceded to France in a treaty, now named Haiti) going. Growing and harvesting sugar made the island one of the most lucrative colonies on earth, but at horrific human cost– many, many thousands of enslaved Africans died there in a relatively short time.

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          • Thanks, jhNY, for that very interesting/very horrifying historic info.

            A fascinating/disturbing novel about Haiti at the time of Toussaint Louverture is Madison Smartt Bell’s “All Souls’ Rising.”

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            • Will look out for “All Souls’ Rising”–

              the horror of Haiti’s history is near-boundless. Theirs was the first (only?) successful rebellion by slaves in colonial history, for which victory, as a condition of peace, the French sent the population a bill which had to be paid by successive governments and generations– a bill for the monetary value of themselves as property. That bill was finally paid off by Haiti– in the 1940’s!!!

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              • It’s one of those novels that should have been 300 rather than 500 pages. Some slow spots amid the compelling spots. But through its characters it does give a vivid view of Haiti’s black population, the white population (slaveholders and otherwise), and the rebellion there.

                I’ve heard about that bill — another example of how imperial powers often win even when they lose. And lots of people blame the Haitian people for being poor rather blame than the real culprits — including France, multinational corporations, etc.

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      • Geography is one of my favourite topics. I will occasionally mention an obscure country/body of water/city/locale/point of interest on here.

        So you’ll have to forgive me in advance because there’s no telling what part of the world I may reference in my comments.

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  14. Hi Dave, taking a breather from my usual daily grind in what is starting to feel like the biblical Tower of Babel – I wonder if soon my aging brain will lose the ability to distinguish one language from another and I will end up like the mad monk in “The Name of the Rose”, babbling in a mix of several tongues. 😦
    I love islands because I love the sea. The first book I thought of, naturally, was Jack London’s “Tales of Hawaii”, the book that eventually led to my packing up my bags and moving there for ten years. Then there’s Somerset Maugham’s “The Moon and Six Pence”, in which the island of choice is Tahiti. Both books tackle the issue of leprosy, which was the dark side of life on those beautiful islands – my younger, impressionable self concluded that one should beware of the Worm, it can hide in the most perfect apple…
    P.S. So glad you discovered P.D. James – she is absolutely my favorite mystery writer, her writing is worthy of being considered “literature”. I have read every one of her books. Too bad there won’t be any more!
    P.S. When I first read the headline of your post I thought you were discussing Long Island, N.Y.! 😀

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    • Hi, Clairdelune. Sounds like your work is almost never-ending, with just brief breaks. 😦 But you described it in a very funny, wry way!

      Thanks for mentioning that Maugham novel — I’ve read it and love it, but forgot to include it in my column. Definitely one of the better island-set books.

      Wow — that Jack London book had a big influence on your life! The power of great literature!

      At the bottom of this comments area, I credited Kat Lib with recommending P.D. James to me, but you must have recommended her to me, too, a while back. So I’m going to fix that comment. James really does inhabit a space that combines crime/mystery fiction with literary fiction. Such a good writer!

      Yes, I deliberately did that Long Island thing in the headline. A not entirely successful attempt at wordplay. 🙂

      Thanks for the excellent, eloquent comment!

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  15. On my bookshelf is Sue Monk Kidd’s, “The Mermaid Chair.” Takes place inside church of a Benedictine monastery on Egret Island, just off the coast of South Carolina. The island is described with exotic beauty of marshlands,tidal creeks and majestic egrets. The real mystery is the mermaid chair dedicated to a saint who as legend claimed,was a mermaid before her conversion. Interestingly I read this beautiful,engrossing book several years ago while staying a few days,just after Labor Day when it was more sedate,more to my liking,on Shelter Island which is on the north fork of Long Island,accessible by ferry on north and south forks.

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    • Michele, sounds like an excellent book, beautifully described by you. Just put it on my long list. And it’s evocative to read a book when one is in a place that sort of relates to the book that’s being read — in your case, vacationing on an island while reading a story with an island setting.

      An experience for me that sort of relates to that was visiting the Chateau d’If (off Marseilles) when visiting France in 2007 and then immediately rereading “The Count of Monte Cristo” as soon as I got home. Definitely added to the experience.

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  16. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are you[r] favorite novels and stories set partly or completely on an island? —

    Apparently because I have lived almost all my adult life on either one or the other of two islands on the U.S. East Coast, I seem to have a natural affinity for these kinds of things. And among my favorite works set partly or completely on my current island are James Baldwin’s “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Caleb Carr’s “The Angel of Darkness,” E.L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime,” Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Henry James’ “Washington Square,” Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” Henry Roth’s “Call It Sleep” and J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.”

    Uh-oh. I have to go: The tide is on the rise.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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      • When Mandy first arrived in NYC she declared, kiddingly, that Manhattan was “a short little island packed full of creeps.”

        Happy to see a list compiled of Short Island books. There are, as I’m sure you know, others.

        Top of the list for Long Island books, though as JJ reports, there are Short Island scenes: The Great Gatsby. After that, I’m guessing Updike, O’Hara.

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        • As wonderful as it is, Manhattan can be a bit of a shock to the system when one first moves there. I remember that feeling well. 🙂 Perhaps no higher a percentage of creeps than anywhere else, but the sheer volume of people in NYC guarantees the presence of many of those “cr” people.

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        • Howdy, jhNY!

          — When Mandy first arrived in NYC she declared, kiddingly, that Manhattan was “a short little island packed full of creeps.” —

          Well, we do have to live somewhere.

          — Top of the list for Long Island books, though as JJ reports, there are Short Island scenes: The Great Gatsby. After that, I’m guessing Updike —

          Outside John Updike’s Rabbit universe — “Rabbit, Run,” “Rabbit Redux,” “Rabbit Is Rich,” “Rabbit at Rest” and “Rabbit Remembered” — I have read a few of his books, such as “Couples,” “S.” and “The Witches of Eastwick,” but I cannot recall any of them set on New York’s Long Island, so to which ones do you refer?

          J.J.

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            • — My guesswork must have been less than any good. —

              You did raise an interesting point, though: Unlike the ’burbs of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and even Florida, those of New York appear to have made either little or no impression on John Updike in terms of choosing the locales of his pieces, even though he was proximate to them on occasion not only during the decades when he was a contributor at “The New Yorker” but also over the years when he was a staff writer at the magazine. Hmm.

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                • — For what it’s worth, the one time I heard John Updike speak in person was in Manhattan (in 1990). —

                  I haven’t read any of the books constituting “The Complete Henry Bech,” but I have to believe the New York metropolitan area serves as the setting of at least some of the short stories therein. Otherwise, I have to suspect John Updike didn’t like us very much. Or, alternatively, I have to think he liked us so much he didn’t want to abuse, malign and trash us the same way he did poor, old, rich, young Rabbit.

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                  • That all sounds plausible, J.J., but I’ve read so little of John Updike that it’s hard for me to say more. (I did read “Rabbit, Run” on the recommendation of you and others; a fascinating novel with a very unlikable protagonist. If I’m remembering right, you said Angstrom gets a bit more sympathetic in subsequent books.)

                    When I saw Updike in 1990, he was receiving the ACE (Amateur Cartoonist Extraordinary) Award from the National Cartoonists Society for having done some cartooning as a young man (pre-novelist). But I’m sure it was mostly an excuse for the NCS to get a celebrity speaker. 🙂

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                    • — When I saw Updike in 1990, he was receiving the ACE (Amateur Cartoonist Extraordinary) Award from the National Cartoonists Society for having done some cartooning as a young man (pre-novelist). —

                      Which, of course, brings to mind a famous anecdote centering on author and cartoonist James Thurber, who was a colleague of John Updike at “The New Yorker” in the 1950s. Thurber even wrote one of the least succinct versions of the story himself in an essay called “The Lady on the Bookcase” (http://bit.ly/216TSoi): “One day twelve years ago an outraged cartoonist, four of whose drawings had been rejected in a clump by ‘The New Yorker,’ stormed into the office of Harold Ross, editor of the magazine. ‘Why is it,’ demanded the cartoonist, ‘that you reject my work and publish drawings by a fifth-rate artist like Thurber?’ Ross came quickly to my defense like the true friend and devoted employer he is. ‘You mean third-rate,’ he said quietly.”

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              • ” he was proximate to them on occasion not only during the decades when he was a contributor at “The New Yorker” but also over the years when he was a staff writer at the magazine.”

                Yep– and from those facts I extrapolated to nowhere. Makes me curious as to where he lived during the New Yorker years– but the wiki bio does not say. Manhattan? A guess– and as you are now aware, mine are not always good. (By the way, I did find a branch of the Opdyk family that spent years on Long Island some centuries ago…)

                I have read Updike only a little– some of his art criticism in the NY Review of Books, a short story or so in the New Yorker, and I don’t think I’ve read anything larger. Always meant to, even now have a book of short stories here on my reading piles. But my impression of the author, and possibly the man, probably formed too much out of other people’s reservations, has kept me mostly away. My suspicion is he is now in that uncomfortable period of afterlife during which he is undervalued for a while– the way Picasso has been– for several reasons no doubt– but among them, the need for other and younger writers to find a place away from under his large shadow.

                Here’s a quote that speaks to my impression above, fair or not:

                “Updike’s work is more and more representative of that polarizing within a state where Authority grows ever more brutal and malign while its hired hands in the media grow ever more excited as the holy war of the few against the many heats up.”– Gore Vidal

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                • — “Updike’s work is more and more representative of that polarizing within a state where Authority grows ever more brutal and malign while its hired hands in the media grow ever more excited as the holy war of the few against the many heats up.”– Gore Vidal —

                  And yet in my alphabetized bookcases the works of John Updike and Gore Vidal reside most peaceably, books against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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                  • Great. Thanks to you, now I’ve got to figure out a way to stop thinking about a green breast, but I’m afraid. It never worked with an elephant.

                    Also, while we’re on a thread that includes The New Yorker, there’s a funny, cleverly made little book for kids (mostly) by James Thurber about an island: The Wonderful O. Ever read it?

                    The place, Ooroo, is taken over by pirates, who banish from all uses the letter ‘o’. Complications ensue. One proper lady cannot contain her embarrassment over this great change, and keeps herself apart from others, so as not to hear the remains of her name aloud. That name: Ophelia Oliver.

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                    • — [T]here’s a funny, cleverly made little book for kids (mostly) by James Thurber about an island: The Wonderful O. Ever read it? —

                      Npe. If and when I get arund t it, thugh, I hpe it has a passage set n ne f the island’s subway trains, where all the riders are greeted by signs with the same imperative sentence: “D Nt Hld Drs.”

                      Liked by 1 person

                  • J.J., VERY nice “Great Gatsby” riff!

                    Interesting the strange bedfellows the accident of the alphabet make. And then there’s intentional alphabetical placement — as is well known, Jim Grant took the pen name Lee Child partly because he wanted his Jack Reacher books to be on the shelves between the works of Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie.

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                    • — [A]s is well known, Jim Grant took the pen name Lee Child partly because he wanted his Jack Reacher books to be on the shelves between the works of Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie. —

                      Well known to you, but news to me! That feller really is a visionary.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Yeah, he seemed to know he’d be a successful thriller novelist — and he was! His books are about as addicting as anything I’ve read.

                      And sorry I assumed you’d know that piece of Lee Child trivia. All of us literature-reading types know some facts and don’t know others, partly depending on which authors interest us the most!

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                    • “J.J., VERY nice “Great Gatsby” riff!”

                      Now I’m feeling a l’il neglected, as my reply contained a phrase F. Scott put in close proximity to what JJ riffed off. Plus a ref to Lakoff’s ironic process theory, and all for a laff!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Sorry about that, jhNY. I must have zoned out. Your comments (including the 1:08 PM one) have been brilliantly funny and/or funnily brilliant, as always. On my part, “attention must be paid” better in the future. 🙂

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                    • “Interesting the strange bedfellows the accident of the alphabet make”–

                      Gentleman Jim Corbett, heavyweight champ of yore (scratchy film of him boxing in what appears to a sort of elaborate jockstrap makes for uncomfortable viewing– and possibly, boxing), once opined he had at last located sympathy– it was to be found in the dictionary, “right between sh_t and syphilis.”

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  17. Alex Garland’s The Beach (“Twenty-something Richard travels to Thailand and finds himself in possession of a strange map. Rumours state that it leads to a solitary beach paradise, a tropical bliss – excited and intrigued, he sets out to find it.”

    I remember the book being very compelling in an eerie sort of way. I kind of savored it as I read. The 2000 film with Leonardo DiCaprio was a decent adaptation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Joe! That book DOES sound very compelling, and I just put it on my list. Nicely described.

      Leonardo DiCaprio has definitely been in his share of films based on novels — “The Great Gatsby,” “Revolutionary Road,” “The Man in the Iron Mask,” etc.!

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  18. “Papillon” is an absolutely fascinating book, although it is supposedly not fiction. It is the autobiography of Henri Charrière who was a prisoner in French Guiana and ultimately on Devil’s Island. However, I suspect that he somewhat sensationalized the story of his life. It made an outstanding movie with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman!

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