For close to 80 years now, celebrity guests on the BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs have been asked what music they would take with them to an imaginary desert island.
They pick the songs, supposedly, that would provide some solace or at least stave off the complete madness of permanent isolation. Along with the standard-issue complete works of Shakespeare and a Bible, they are also permitted to chose a book for their voyage.
The most common choice has been Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, a monster of a thing more than 1200 pages long in its first edition. Others have gone for the Oxford English Dictionary and Who's Who. Proust and Homer are very popular, along with a healthy dose of Jane Austen. Winston Churchill's four-volume History of the English Speaking Peoples was the choice of 10 of the program's castaways in its first 70 years.
Luckily, self isolation for me is taking place at home and has not been dastardly like the desert island of British radio imagination.
I have not had to pick one book to see me out these next six or so months. I still have all my book shelves here, packed to the brim with all sorts of tomes I have never actually read. There's plenty to work with.
Out of reluctance to go to a book shop - hardly an essential trip at the moment - I've been forced to reconsider what I own already. It seems inappropriate to order more books for delivery when the ones I own already don't fit on the shelves.
Tony Webster, the narrator of Julian Barnes' 2011 novel The Sense of an Ending, makes some very important observations about the 20th century undergraduate's bookshelf. "In those days, paperbacks came in their traditional liveries: orange Penguins for fiction, blue Pelicans for non-fiction. To have more blue than orange on your shelf was proof of seriousness," he says.
In the 21st century, I have always had more orange than blue. Second-hand Penguins ranging from very decrepit to hardly read absorbed into my collection on the cheap and by the box-load. I have probably read less than a third, some being very unfashionable titles long out of print, others being Great Works (capital G, capital W). There's little motivation to read them.
I have read all the good stuff at home - the enjoyable novels, the books I've bought to be read. All that remains now are books which at some point I convinced myself I should have. It means I could quite easily embark on a self-directed Great Books Course but to be perfectly honest, since COVID-19 has kept us all at home, I have hardly read a page.
Now that the pubs are shut and the theatres are closed and restaurants are take-away only, I should have ample time to read the six volumes of Manning Clark's History of Australia, or even Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, both things which are displayed with some prominence at home as if to suggest I have some literary street cred. Clearly, I don't.
There are plenty of reading lists which have been hastily assembled in magazines and newspapers all over the world. Plenty of the heavy hitters feature: From Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment to James Joyce's Ulysses. All "one day" books, the kind readers have been promising themselves they'll tackle for years.
I skipped Albert Camus' The Plague (almost too obvious, I thought) and tried Nevil Shute's On The Beach, bought in my last visit to a second-hand bookshop before our world was shut down and changed forever. But despite its flavour of the month quality - the inhabitants of Melbourne wait for the slow, inevitable spread of probably fatal nuclear radiation from a war in the northern hemisphere - I wasn't taken in.
There is a school of thought which says if you read books about situations more miserable than your own, you'll feel better about where you're at. Except it didn't quite work.
The only thing I have managed to work my way through is an account of the plague in Florence in 1629. Hardly pleasant reading, but it had the strange effect of giving some comfort: humans have been here before, melancholy to see their cities deserted while trying to prevent an incurable disease's spread. Maybe reading the accounts of our historical counterparts is the best option for a time like this. It isn't more miserable to make us feel better, but simply par with now.
But I don't have the annals of 17th century Italy on hand to take this line of inquiry much further. And the libraries are shut.
So what else to read in our current state of the world? I might not have obscure accounts of Italian history, but there's still lots to choose from. Is it time to take in the mind-expanding possibilities of the two-volume Shorter Oxford Dictionary? The later novels of Patrick White? A history of the typewriter? Some of the large, beautifully produced art books I've sunk splendid amounts of cash into over the years and never read more than a chapter of? The Norton Anthology of English Literature?
To be honest, I think those are unlikely choices. Instead, I've been wishing I had a copy of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Short, sharp, to the point and a lovely story. Some books by Dr Seuss I could probably manage.
If only I hadn't prioritised weighty books that screamed importance on my shelves and had some lighter stuff. Why forsake enjoyment at a time like this? There are no guests coming over to pass judgement for the foreseeable future and I don't think we have to emerge from this better read. Alive and healthy, without having passed on the virus to others, is all I'm asking for.
Perhaps I could be like the eight castaways on Desert Island Discs who chose blank paper over a book to take to the island with them, probably unable to choose just one of the 130 million or so books said to exist. And not all of them wanted pens or pencils to take with them either.