Literary critic Harold Bloom asked a perplexing question in his article, “The 3 Books You’d Want on a Desert Island”. Bloom answered the “Desert Island Question” to readers with “authentic judgment”: “The Authorized King James Bible”, “The Complete Shakespeare”, or “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes. Coincidentally, these are the same three I picked before reading Harold Bloom’s article. If you had just one of these classic works, which would it be?
Widely known as the “King James Bible” published in 1611, this book was the culmination of England’s most educated translators working together to form a new Bible that could be read by all of England’s population. Religious factions could not agree any one of four Bibles printed and circulated during the 16th century. This translation was supervised by the new king of England, James I who believed that creating a brand-new Bible which provided religious harmony in the churches and homes of most English Christians. The translation project began in 1603 and 1611. Today, it is still the most widely accepted and read of all other Bibles including modern ones.
William Shakespeare’s plays are certainly the most widely known throughout English-speaking countries. Born in 1564, Shakespeare’s theatrical masterpieces have been collected in many books and are widely available. All include his 39 plays, 154 sonnets and 4 epic poems in complete volumes. You can find this collection on Internet bookstores. You can search using many combinations with the title, such as: “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” or “William Shakespeare’s Complete Works.”
The most famous writer from Spain is Miguel de Cervantes, whose life was ironically always stacked with economic hardships. He was born in 1547 and struggled in his efforts to be a successful writer but always fell short of readers’ expectations. While he was not writing, he compensated with a life of exciting adventures, in which he spent much of his life in prisons. military campaigns against the Turks in the Mediterranean, the Spaniard was captured by Barbary pirates and taken to Algiers. There, he was kept as a slave for five years. When he made it back to Spain, he was also taken prisoner for falsely stealing money. Yet after being released from prison for the last time in his life, Cervantes’ poor literary talents were far outmatched by his novel, Don Quixote de la Mancha, whose plots were influenced by his adventures in jail. As a matter of fact, by 1605, Cervantes had occupied enough time in jail that he was creating and building most of Don Quixote’s adventures which he parodied in his masterpiece. It became an immediate smash hit with Spanish readers from the time it was published. The book’s fame spread throughout Europe so much that it kept translators busy due to its popularity. Even Shakespeare, no doubt, read Cervantes’ novel. Oddly enough, Cervantes never saw a Spanish “real” coin of the sales. In 1615, a second part of Don Quixote was published before the author died in 1616- the same year as Shakespeare.
Two of the three masterpieces were published in England in the early years of the 17th century: The King James Bible, and Shakespeare’s works. Don Quixote was written in Spanish, but unless you speak Spanish, you should choose between a couple of modern English translations in paperback, such as: Edith Grossman, or Tom Lathrop.
If you do get marooned on a desert island with no way of reaching the outside world, I would bring all three great books with you. Even though these classics are four centuries old, one might save your soul, “brush up your Shakespeare”, or burst into laughter with Don Quixote’s adventures.