Book Theme

Book Theme – Survival

book themeEach month I do a blog post based on a Goodreads group called ‘Play Book Tag.’

The group choose a theme and then people share, discuss, recommend and review books that fit the theme.

Let’s take a look!

survivalwhat is survival


Wait… no. She’s a survivor… my bad.


This month’s topic and last month’s have lent themselves to a matching theme song. How about that? I don’t know what next month’s will be but let’s hope it also involves something catchy.

If we were to begin how I often begin these things it would be with a dictionary definition. So you know what? Let’s just do that.

Survival means the act of surviving especially under adverse or unusual circumstances. A survivor aka Ms. Knowles is the individual within the situation doing the surviving.

To survive is to stay alive.

I’m just going to have to throw this in here…

stayin alive

Sorry (but not really).

Actually both songs make a point about survival and though this isn’t a music blog I’m still going to touch on it.

The Destiny’s Child song refers to surviving the fallout of a failed romantic relationship and the video refers to surviving being marooned on an island. The Bee Gee’s song refers to surviving the daily grind of life and the song (plus the movie Saturday Night Fever) highlights having something in your life that will hopefully aid in your survival.

Survival isn’t just about surviving a harsh and strange environment, although that is definitely applicable, but it can be about surviving your current environment with regular life concerns that have been exacerbated.

Survival can also be about surviving other more significant life events such as physical illness or injury, grief, mental health difficulties, dysfunctional relationships, and financial troubles.

Essentially anything negative or troublesome in a person’s life may need to be survived at any given time and although in the real world this is exhausting, in fiction it makes for great storytelling.

Almost every story has someone trying to survive. Often it’s what they’re trying to survive that will determine the genre.

The more obvious choices when thinking of survival would involve adverse external environments where physical survival is on the line. However, as touched on above there is also emotional survival and even spiritual survival – the survival of one’s  whole self. 

The goal of a character is to survive and whether they are successful or not is what drives us to read on and conflict arises when one characters plans of survival is a direct obstacle to another’s.

Characters can also have additional complexity when you have one who aims to survive their situation by whatever means necessary.

This, my friends, gives us our stories.

survival books

When you drill it down, really drill it down, you could almost consider every story to be about survival. I’m going to consider what I deem as survival in the below examples.

Into the Wild

Into the Wild is based on the true story of Christopher McCandless, a 24 year old American, who decided to go on an adventure of a lifetime and hike across American and into the Alaskan wilderness.

This is very much a tale of surviving your external environment and unfortunately acts as a sad caution as to how unforgiving the natural world can be and how dangerous if you go in unprepared.

It’s not really spoilers because you know this going in – this doesn’t have a happy ending.

The Road


Also dealing with surviving your external environment is The Road.

The circumstances in this story may be fictional (apocalyptic natural disasters causing widespread extinction) but the desperation felt by the characters is no less real.

This is an incredibly bleak look into doing what you can to survive but also while trying to retain what’s left of your humanity. If you can.


The handmaids talePersonally I can’t not include The Handmaid’s Tale as this covers off a whole list of things to survive. Harsh external environment? Check. Dystopian society? Check. Bodily violation and mental health concerns? Check and check.

This is a story about how a society constructed by and for the privileged enables them to thrive while for others they must adapt to survive.

We follow Offred who, as a much wanted handmaiden, is desperately trying to ensure her sense of identity survives in a world determined to remove it.



Yeah, I know. I include The Hunger Games in everything. But it’s just so bloody pertinent dammit!

The characters have to survive a harsh, dystopian environment and if they’re really unlucky they become a tribute in the famous games.

The books move from survival within the arena into surviving a war. The story highlights the impact of these traumatic events on people’s body and mind and how the act of trying to survive can ultimately have a destructive effect on your body and mind.


Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is more subtle than the others.

Set in modern day Glasgow we meet Eleanor who is a little bit odd, a lot socially awkward and has a lot more going on internally than we first realise.

Eleanor is not ok by any stretch of the imagination and as the story unravels we realise that this is a story of surviving the mental trauma of your past and the mental health issues of your present.

This is also a story about having something that helps aid in your survival even if it’s ‘just’ your life you’re surviving.


what is popular

This is based off of the ‘Popular Survival Books’ list on Goodreads which contains 28,145 entries. The top ten are: –

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  2. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  3. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  4. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  5. The Martian by Andy Weir
  6. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  7. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  8. Unbroken: A World War 2 Story by Laura Hillenbrand
  9. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  10. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I’m not surprised really that The Hunger Games made it to place number 1 or that the entire trilogy hit the list. I’m pleasantly surprised that The Road made it and although I didn’t highlight it in this post the other books I had on my mind did include Lord of the Flies.

I’ve heard of The Martian and The Maze Runner but not read them (seen the movies though) but have read Life of Pi. I haven’t heard of Hatchet or Unbroken.

Into the Wild just missed out on being in the top ten and another one in the list but not the top ten is Room by Emma Donoghue which I haven’t read but am desperate to. I’ve watched the movie and yes, I’d say it’s very much about survival but again – a different sort of kind.

There were also a few zombie survival books as you go up the list which makes me chuckle because me and my husband are constantly talking about which one of us would survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

AVMA Veterinarian and Zombies


Him. It would be him. A quiz told me I’d make it to day 30 which is more than I could ever actually hope for in truth.

What are my favourites.jpg

The other books that I had in mind (aside from the ones already mentioned) were more of the non fiction variety.

bear gryllsWhile I haven’t actually read any books by Bear Grylls, I’ve watched his shows and think that I would actually enjoy reading what he’s written about survival.

He’s got quite a few books out I think and I’m sure my husband owns one or two which I need to dig out if I’m to have any chance at fighting off the zombies.



worse case scenario


There is a whole series of the Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbooks and they somehow manage to be be hilarious and incredibly informative.

Again, my husband has a few (are you gaining a picture here?!) and though the authors started with the typical ‘disaster’ survival situations they expanded their range with general life, holidays, work, parenting and even dating.

Seriously check them out. They’re pretty awesome.




Did you survive to the end of this blog post? Yay, if you did!

Please let me know your thoughts on what ‘survival’ books mean to you and let me know what you thought of my choices. Any there that came to your mind? Any that haven’t been included?

I’ll see you soon!

4 thoughts on “Book Theme – Survival

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