In this feature, we offer up some great book recommendations—but not from the current bestseller list. Instead, we offer up oldie-but-goodies; some will be well-known classics, others not so much. But chances are you can find them in a second-hand store or at the library, and who doesn’t love the smell and feel of a good old book?
An Island to Oneself by Tom Neale (1902-1977) has sat on my bookshelf for a while. It’s my husband’s—he’s a fan of non-fiction, adventure and war stories mostly, and our literary interests definitely overlap, so when I finally took a look at this one I thought it might be just the distraction I needed.
It’s about a New Zealand man, in the 1950’s and in his 50’s, who decides to live on his own on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. In his own clear, simple, and straightforward style, he tells of his life as an apprentice engineer in the navy, before taking up residence on Moorea where he learned to speak Tahitian and worked odd jobs until he fell in love with a small atoll called Suvarov. He lives there, alone (for the most part), on and off for a number of years, and his story is full of adventure: harrowing weather, accidents, sickness, unexpected visits (once, from a Rockefeller); but the best parts of the book are his accounts of his day-to-day life, full of sunshine and satisfying necessities like building shelter, hunting and cooking his own food, and actively appreciating his natural surroundings in a way that most of us rarely get to do.
You may start the book thinking he’s eccentric and an introvert to the extreme, and there’s no doubt that he’s a unique individual, but he loves people; he simply loves nature, a quiet, simple life, and solitude more. I don’t know if there’s any one of us out there that hasn’t at some point longed for a chance to make life simpler, happier, and more honest in a way that work and traffic and cell phones make increasingly difficult in our world, and this man’s story might give you a touch of envy that he did what most of us only dream of. But I think it will also give you a feeling of vicarious contentment, of peace, and maybe a bit of inspiration to simplify your own life in whatever ways you can.
At only 250 pages long, An Island to Oneself is a relatively quick and easy read, but one that will stay with you. Enjoy it on a sunny vacation, or as a daily getaway from the rigors of your day. And try to tell me, after reading this book, that you don’t crave some simple cooked fish, coconut, and a warm cup of tea.