About

IMG_3254About Me

I am an artist/marine biologist (I know, such a cliché) and aspiring novelist, and an insatiable consumer of books. I’ve just relocated to San Francisco after eight years living in Ireland and England.

About the Blog

I wanted to read a book from every country in the world. But, when I started to make my list, I found it impossible to limit myself to just one, and likewise impossible to limit myself just to UN-recognized independent countries. So now there are a lot of books! From a lot of places, some of which are countries, some of which are semi-autonomous regions, and some of which are colonies or protectorates that nevertheless have their own distinct culture and literature! Here’s the whole list (2,108 books from 217 countries at last count) if you want to look at it. By my calculations it will take me 40 years to get through it all (if I read nothing else in that time), so bear with me.

If you want to learn more about my motivations and goals for this project, have a look at my first post, about moving back to America, settling down, and traveling vicariously.

About the List

It started with flipping through The Lonely Planet Travel Book, all the countries of the world in glossy color and arranged in alphabetical order, with its startling cultural juxtapositions–Cambodia nestled next to Cameroon, Greenland on the heels of Greece. The Lonely Planet doesn’t draw the line at UN member states, so neither did I; after all, French Polynesia is technically part of France, but its literature is surely different and worth exploring. Scotland and Wales are both in the UK, but they consider themselves separate countries and their literary traditions, though linked, are distinct. I added a few extras that weren’t on the Lonely Planet’s list–Abkhazia comes to mind–and I’m open to further suggestions.

I wasn’t necessarily concerned with getting a definitive list of The Greatest Works from each distinct region. Such a list would be subjective anyway, and compiling it in a short time would be nearly impossible. Plus, I’m not doing this to try to create a canonical list of world literature–I’m doing it so I can learn something about places I might never get a chance to travel to, and so that I can find great books that I might never otherwise have read. So I just wanted to put together a broad survey, including whatever classics of the region I could find, that might give me an insight onto a given culture, or at least provide me with some entertaining reading material that I wouldn’t find elsewhere. I used Wikipedia to find lists of authors or summaries of national literatures. I searched for top-ten, top-twenty and top-100 lists on Google and goodreads. I queried my friends on Facebook to find out what they read in school growing up. I stole suggestions from A Year of Reading the World.

I tried wherever possible to choose authors who are native to the region in question, or else who moved there during childhood. If an author moved away from their home country in adulthood I still consider them to be from the country where they were born; after all, I moved away from America eight years ago but I’m still American. I still think and write like an American, and any book I produce would, I think, be classified as American literature. There are some exceptions to my native rule–sometimes the oral poetry or folk traditions of a non-literate culture have been transcribed by foreign anthropologists, and at times these are the only sources for reading these tales. And there are some places where, try as I might, I was unable to find any accessible literature by a native author. Tuvalu is one such instance; I had to settle in this case, for a novel by an Englishman who lived there for two years, and a book of folk songs collected by a German anthropologist. Less than ideal, but better than nothing.

One thing to note is that books I’ve already read are not on the list. That’s why a lot of classics of English and American literature are conspicuously absent: my education and my previous leisure reading have been very anglophone biased. Some French classics are missing as well; I studied french in high school and college and majored in Medieval Studies with a focus on French and English literature, so I knocked some of those out then.

I ended up with a list of 2,108 books–hence the name of the blog–though that number is in frequent flux. If you’re interested, you can see the whole list here. At my current rate of reading it will take me just over forty years to read them all, so I think I’ll probably have to skip a few.

With all these caveats in mind, if you know of any great books that aren’t on this list, and you want to recommend them, let me know in the comments!

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12 thoughts on “About

  1. You have quite an ambitious version of this project! I’m sticking to trying for one from each country for now, though I’ve definitely been revisiting a lot of them. I’m excited to come across your blog and follow your journey.

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  2. Hi Kelly,

    what a wonderful blog.
    I really enjoy your reviews so far and you found some very interesting books.
    I’m a German blogger who is working on a readingingtheworld project as well, though I only started in January.
    My goal is to read at least one book per country, but I hope to find more books from around the world.
    For example I’ve already read one book from Nigeria, but there are so many Nigerian authors that I will definetely read more from the country in the future. I use the reading around the world challenge to permanently change my reading pattern,
    I actually found your blog when I was looking for books from the Pacific Islands and you have some good recommendations

    Kind regards
    Elisa

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    1. Hi Elisa! Thank you so much for your visit and your comment. I would love to hear more about your project. I visited your blog but unfortunately I can’t read German (I spent about a year studying it on Duolingo but I find the grammar really difficult and I just never really got to the point where I could read it). I’d love it if you keep me posted on your progress and let me know if I can help or contribute in any way! It’s always good to meet a fellow world-book-traveler.

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  3. Yeah, German grammar is really difficult. Even as a native speaker I don’t really understand the punctuation rules :D.
    My plan is to read at least one (but hopefully more) book from every state over the next couple of years. I define state ast UN Members, Palestine, Vatican City, Kosovo and Taiwan. I’m not opposed to reading stories from territories like French Polynesia or Niue that are administered by other countries, but I will focus on independent states. Simply because this is already a long list and I don’t want to set myself a goal that is too hard to achieve.
    I want to focus on novels, short story collections, biographies or collections of folktales. I try to avoid reading poetry, because I’m not a big fan of it.
    The books I read should be written of a national of the relevant country. I will only read books of foreign nationals, in case I can’t find books by nationals. I.e. for Kiribati I found a novel set in the country which written by a British writer who has lived in Kiribati for a couple of years.
    While I try to read many books for my challenge, I also want to reduce my TBR pile. So the books I read for my “reading around the world challenge” amount only to have of my current reading material.

    I’m not reading the books in geographical or alphabetical order. I’m a person who decides spontaneously what I want to read next. However, I try to avoid reading several books from the same continent after another.

    So far I’ve read 5 countries for this challenge:
    USA: Various books.
    Chile: “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende. I know that this is a really popular book, but I did not enjoy it that much. It wasn’t exactly bad, but I couldn’t really connect with it.
    Nigeria: “Under the Udala Trees” by Chinelo Okparanta. This was quite a good debut. It’s about a young woman growing up in Nigeria. She is a lesbian, so the book is mostly about her live trying to find a way to live in a country where same sex relationships are forbidden. The book is slow-paced and mostly focusses on her development, but I enjoyed reading it.
    Singapore: “The Black Tides of Heaven” by Jy Yang. I’m not sure if you include fantasy books, but this is a good fantasy novella. The world is based on South East Asia. It deals with topics like gender and technical progres.
    Spain: “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This is a really famous one, so you might already now it. I really loved this book and will definetely read the seques.

    I’m currently listineing to Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” which will count for South Africa and I will soon start reading something from Australia or New Zealand.

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    1. I’ve read The Shadow of the Wind but I didn’t love it. It was several years ago so I can’t remember why at this point. I do like fantasy, if it’s reasonably well written, so I’ll check out your Singapore selection! I am also having the same problem as you with Nigeria—there are just too many good books from there! I think I have 30+ Nigerian books on my list, but I can’t remember offhand if “Under the Udala Trees” is on there.
      Which book have you chosen for Kiribati? I read A Pattern if Islands, which was by an English author but he spent something like 20 or 30 years living in Kiribati as a colonial administrator and was formally adopted by one of the village elders so I felt like it was a pretty good representation of the culture. I think that Ann Morgan, of A Year of Reading the World (another WordPress blog, can’t remember the url right now though), had a different selection by an actual I-Kiribati author, but it may not have been fiction. Might be worth checking out anyway.

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      1. The novel I found for Kiribati is called “Food of Ghosts” and written by Marianne Wheelaghan. It’s a crime novel and was recommended by the I-Kiribati blog The Little Island that could, so I hope that the representation will be ok.

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      2. Yesterday, I found this website about Kiribatibooks: http://www.kiribatibooks.com/
        It’s maybe a bit outdated, but has some interesting recommendations. Most of the books are out of print and not available as e-books, but some well-sorted libraries or in a few cases Amazon have them. Luckily for me my University Library has copies of most of these books, so I won’t have a problem finding something for Kiribati 🙂

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