Joseph Hallenbeck
July 07, 2017

The Desert List

Filed under: Literary Criticism


“One cannot read a book: one can only reread it” – Nabokov

I woke this morning thinking about re-reading The Lord of the Rings. The last stab at the thick volume I made while at Oxford in 2008. A childhood friend reads the entire thing on an annual basis. Which brings me around to another question. If I examine the entirety of my library and was given the choice of only a select few books to read and re-read for eternity which volumes would that entail? It is said that the quality of a litrary work is measured in our ability to glean something anew from each reading.

Certainly there are many a book and a film that has touched and moved me greatly and yet, I would not go back and read it again. Honey & Clover, for example, was paramount in my decision leave DigiPen for Augustana. Yet, in rewatching, it has never recaptured the same motive power.

This list then is a kind of “desert island list.” A list of works so profound that if restricted to only those works on a deserted island I could potentially get by. It is also the list of works that I could potentially see myself reading and re-reading every five years into my geriatry.

Books (Novels, Short Story, and Graphic Novels)

The novel is an easy one to figure out. Which volumes have I returned to time and again? Some of have certainly fallen off the list. C.S. Lewis was wonderous as a child but what once seemed like playful allegory now feels too much like a club.

The Classics

  • Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  • Gilgamesh
  • The Holy Bible

The Modern Fantasy

  • The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
  • The Silmarillion or The History of Middle Earth by JRR Tolkien
  • The Works of Lovecraft
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • The Dungeons & Dragons Rulebooks (AD&D, 3rd, and 5th Editions)

The Graphic Novel

  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki
  • Solanin by Inio Asano

The Literary Books

  • On the Road by Jack Kuroac
  • Child’s Play by Ichiyo Higuchi
  • Snow Country and Thousand Cranes by Yatsunari Kawabata


What is worth re-reading in Philosophy is far too long of a list. I submit instead those volumes from my undergrad that I find worth returning to as they provide a rather sound foundation for further reading.

  • The Complete Works of Plato
  • Nichomachean Ethics by Artistotle
  • Confessions by St. Augustine
  • Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas
  • Meditations on First Philosophy by Descartes
  • An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by Locke
  • An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by Hume
  • Critque of Pure Reason by Kant
  • Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics by Kant
  • The Phenomonology of Spirit by Hegel
  • Fear & Trembling by Kierkegaard
  • The Portable Nietzche
  • Being & Nothing by Sartre
  • The Rebel and The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus

Film & Television

Rarely do I return to a film and almost never teleivison. A handful are regulars, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and Labyrinth where all watched repeatedly in my youth. The collected works of Miyazaki, Kirasawa and Satoshi Kon are all revisited on occassion. A handful of anime I would like to take the time to rewatch as they were all very formative in my youth. Yet, how well they would stand up on a rewatching remains unknown.


  • Star Wars
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  • Night on the Galatic Railroad
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Directed by Miyazaki: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Pom Poko, Whisper of the Heart, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle
  • Directed by Kirasawa: Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Ikiru, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Throne of Blood
  • Directed by Satoshi Kon: Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika

Anime & Television

  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Samuarai X
  • FLCL
  • Serial Experiments Lain
  • Mushishi
  • Kino no Tabi
  • Red Dwarf
  • The Twilight Zone


The vast majority of games have no narrative arc. How can I return to Counter Strike? When I examine narrative single player games though, I find myself going back to Miyamoto’s early games: Mario and Zelda. Few titles from that era held up with age, and fewer modern titles are worth a second look. Yet, I must admit that I have probably gone back to re-play none of these games in the last decade.

  • Super Mario I, II, and III
  • Super Mario: Yoshii’s Island
  • Super Mario 64
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past or Link’s Awakening
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  • Chrono Cross
  • Shadow of Collossus
  • Ico

Honorable Mentions

There are a few volumes that I have read multiple times, but upon later reading in life, I do not feel the same spark and will probably not return:

  • The works of Mishima
  • The works of Murakami
  • The works of Bill Waterson
  • The works of C.S. Lewis
"The Desert List" by Joseph Hallenbeck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.