In the words of the great writer Jean Rhys, reading “makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important it makes homes for us everywhere.”
I have been an avid reader since early childhood, something which didn’t change after the arrival of my own three children. I’ve been employed as a book editor for a well-known international publisher for more than 20 years, and I have experience of working in the fields of international political and economic non-fiction, as well as a spell as fiction editor of a literary magazine.
Until a few years ago, however, I would say that less than 5% of the books I read were novels in translation or books by non-UK/US/Irish writers.
Here in the UK it is very easy to spend a whole lifetime consuming various forms of culture – whether it be books, TV shows, movies, art exhibitions or theatre productions – and be wholly contained in a UK- and US-centric universe, with maybe a dash of Irish culture or the odd Antipodean adventure to spice things up.
I love to browse travel guides, such as Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List, and travel magazines, but I’m in my 40s and I do not have the time, money or freedom to travel the entire world (who does?). Plus, there are places in the world I simply would not feel safe travelling to, even if I had the opportunity. Not to mention the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, more realistically, I’ve set myself the challenge of reading a book from every country of the world. Where possible, I’ll be reading both male and female writers from each nation. I’m also seeking out film, art, music and television series from each country in the world, gradually building up a global list of cultural inspiration. I’ll read work written in or translated into English or French, and watch subtitled film.
The UK is becoming increasingly insular – taking its island status to the extreme. Nationalism is on the rise, and at the time of writing we’ve just exited the European Union under a narcissistic, ferociously entitled ex-public schoolboy who openly sneers at other cultures. Perhaps this quest, then, is also a response to the political situation.
My list of countries is taken from the UN members list (plus observers), which seems as good a place to start as any (although it excludes a few territories, for example Kosovo, whose sovereignty is not universally recognised). According to www.un.org, there are 193 member states, with the most recent admission being South Sudan in 2011 (plus Palestine is an observer).
That should keep me busy for a while! Wish me luck.
If you have any suggestions please get in touch via a comment or email email@example.com. I’d love to hear your recommendations. I also accept books for consideration for review.
Books change us. Books save us. I know this because it happened to me. Books saved me. So, I do believe through stories we can learn to change, we can learn to empathize and be more connected with the universe and with humanity.
The epoch of world literature is at hand, and everyone must strive to hasten its approach.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1827)
There were for me no mighty spectacles save those which I knew to be not artificially composed for my entertainment, but necessary and unalterable – the beauty of landscapes or of great works of art
Marcel Proust – Remembrance of Things Past, 1922
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