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Jonathan Franzen is an award-winning American novelist and essayist. Franzen was born in Chicago, Illinois, raised in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, and educated at Swarthmore College.[…]

Why not take the opportunity to learn a language?

Question: What's on your desert island reading list?

Jonathan Franzen: Well for a desert island you’d want to take hard books. Desert island is not a literary cannon, desert island is a wish list.

What I wish I’d had sustained reading time to actually figure out. Frankly I don’t see why one wouldn’t take advantage of being on a desert island to learn a new language. So three really good books of Russian grammar and a Russian dictionary and then War and Peace or something, might be what I would take to a desert island. Just make good use of the time.

That’s a Midwestern thing. But I can’t tell if it’s a Midwestern thing always, or maybe just a Midwestern thing from my childhood, a wish to make good use of one’s leisure time, not just piss it away; try to read books that are not only fun but have some substance to them.

It feels like a Midwestern prejudice that I ought to be improving myself on the desert island; it’s not enough that I’m on a desert island. Frankly a desert island sounds kind of great, so I think I would probably try to learn Russian, although at this point maybe not, I might try to learn Chinese but I might need more than five books for that.

So one could look at the question as well five books that I think are underappreciated and deserve a plug in a situation like this.

Recorded On: April 1, 2008