If I were to be marooned on a desert island and were allowed a single physical object to console me in my exile, that object would almost definitely be underpants. Should my captors show me mercy and treat clothes as a given, then I would probably ask for my Kindle. And a solar-powered USB charger, of course. Although why they would deign to let me take an item onto this rocky outcrop of doom is as much a mystery to me as why they would stick me there in the first place. But if it were three items, then it would definitely be my Kindle, a charger, and spare set of clean pants.
Taking a Kindle renders the traditional dinner party question moot. The whole point – other than allowing everyone at the table a chance to briefly fantasize about escaping the present company – is to learn something of your companions. When someone chooses say, the Bible, Crime and Punishment, and a Wodehouse omnibus, you learn that he (or she – but you can probably guess in this case who the hypothetical someone actually is), then you learn that he (or she) is a devout person with a passion for redemption narratives and tweed-core comedy. Or at least that this is what he wishes you to think of him.
When our unlucky fellow diner picks a Kindle, you don't get any of that. The best we can tell is that by picking an ebook reader over an iPod that he's probably not a music person. Or it could be that he values personal hygiene over a set of headphones. You just can't tell.
More interesting to me is why we have all been sent to this desert island in the first place under such bizarre terms. How would we get there? Lost notwithstanding, modern communications technology rules out an accidental, Gilligan scenario. There must be some kind of intent. And let's face it, whoever is abandoning us to the elements probably doesn't exactly have our best interests at heart. Were they benevolent, there'd be much better ways of expressing it. They could give us an ice cream. Their intent, therefore, must be malicious.
But why an island, rather than say, Wolverhampton? Why not just do us in? And why offer us comforts in a way that is both absurdly generous and yet so arbitrarily limited.
One of the other guests has to be in on it. This is the only thing that makes sense. This guest employs agents who then strand us in different islands across the globe, making it look to each of us as if he (or she) were a hapless victim. An island, rather than a not particularly interesting city, much reduces the likelihood that we'll ever be able to get back and inform on them – assuming any of us figures it out.
And, presumably since we're all at the same table together, we are all friends, or friends of friends, or (if we're particularly unlucky) family. Thus it's likely that this Judas in our midst shares kith or kin with us who he'd rather not bereave. Hence exile, not execution.
No other explanation makes any sense.
Next time someone asks you this question, be very suspicious. And don't forget to ask about the pants.
This post is part of the Alphabet Supremacy project, a collaboration between myself and Bice Dibley.