In 2011, I took on what seemed initially to be an insane task: read 36 books from 36 different countries–6 each from 6 regions of the world. I have a friend who teaches in an International Baccalaureate program in an Atlanta high school, and he’d recommended lots of world literature to me over the years. I’d even bought some of the books, and they were languishing on my bookshelves, because I’d look at them, chicken out, and pick some Brit Lit prize winner or a mystery instead. Then I found this challenge on Bookcrossing, (which is a cool site, if you haven’t checked it out yet). Today, I finished my last book: Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz.
I didn’t finish it last night…
The challenge was the ideal scenario for me: challenging goal that relates to something I want to do, but need a little push about. I respond well to such things: I will exercise a lot, but only if I’m signed up for a marathon or half marathon in the relatively near future. I will read slightly intimidating literature, but only if I have a deadline and some rules and some other people involved.
The list below was a combination of my friend John’s recommendations, what I had on my shelves, or what I found in local library sales. The hardest regions to fill were Oceania andSouth America. There are great books for the latter, but they aren’t all easy to get for nearly free in my neck of the woods.
I’ve rated my reads below on the following scale:
***** Rocked My World
**** Really Glad I Read It
*** Liked it
** It was fine, but wish I’d gone with something else from the country/region
* Not great, REALLY wish I’d read something else instead
?? I rated it however I rated it, but really thought from what others said that I would have liked it better.
1. MoroccoThe Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles ***
2. Rhodesia: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga *****
3. Nigeria: Things Fall Apart *****
4. South Africa: Disgrace.by J. M. Coetzee ***
5. Egypt: The Palace Walk ****
6.Kenya: Devil on the Cross by Ngugi *****
1. Pakistan: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen**
2. India: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster ****
3. Shalom, Japan by Shifra Horn *
4. China: A Good Fall by Ha Jin****
5. Vietnam: No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hahn***
6.Israel: Startup Nation by Senor and Singer*****
1. Canada: Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood ****
2. US: So Sure of Death by Dana Stabenow **
3. Mexico: The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes *****
4. Dominican Republic:: The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz ****
5. El Salvador: The Weight of All Things by Sandra Benitez ****
6.Cuba: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino *****
1. Colombia: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez***??
2. Peru: The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa ****
3. Chile: House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende ****
4. Brazil: The Alchemist by Paul Coelho***
5. Argentina: Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges*****
6. Uraguay: Genesis by Eduardo Galeano*****
1. Russia: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy***??
2. UK: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen ***
3.Spain The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon ****
4. Greece: Zorba the Greek by Kankatarides ***??
5. Portugal: All the Names by Jose Saramago ****
6.Germany: Crabwalk by Gunter Grass ****
1. NZ: Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh**
2. Australia: March by Geraldine Brooks ***
3. Papua New Guinea: Zaibatsu (John Brown) ***
4. Palau: Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu****
5.French Polynesia Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry***
6.Tonga: Tales of the Tikongs by Epeli Hauofa****
In many cases, I think the ones I marked ?? had just been so hyped in advance, that I was bound to be disappointed. And I also think that if I had read them earlier in my life, when their perspectives would have been newer to me, I would have found them more profound.
The ***** books sometimes rocked my world based on the writing, or the way that they played with the form, or in other cases because they introduced me in visceral ways to parts of the world/cultures that I hadn’t known much about before. They are a very diverse set of books, and I am SO glad to have experiences each of them.
I have absolutely loved this journey, which is why I am doing the Around the World tour in 2012, but keeping the 666 requirement as part of it. This year, to minimize a feeling of having wasted a read, I have picked almost exclusively from the 1001 Books You Should Read Before You Die list. (Yes. That’s another goal. Now I just have to live a decent length of time, and the editors of that book have to refrain from revising too much every 2 years, so that I can stay ahead of the additions.)
Stay tuned. That challenge starts in just 49 hours and 10 minutes. I CAN”T WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (so to deal with the pain of waiting, I’m reading another 1001 Books pick from a country that offers WAY too many options to finish at a rate of a book a year–The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte, the one I had never even heard of until the 1001 Books list.)