Library · Literary Things

Around the World in 80 Books

As we near the end of the year, many of us readers will already have drawn up our bookish resolutions. Mine usually boil down to the same pithy maxim for me to abide by in the twelve-month to come – read more books! However, this year I have decided to change tack.

My 2018 reading resolution is to be better book-travelled.


I recently had to face up to the fact that my reading habits are not as diverse as I like to think they are.  A quick glance at my bookshelves made it apparent that easily 90% of the books I have read in my life are by UK or US based authors. Of course, there is some variety within these territorial parameters – novels from different periods of history, authors of different social classes and regional upbringings, BAME and LGBT writers, and so on. But I found it rather depressing to think that almost all of my entire reading history has emerged from only two or three of the world’s one hundred and ninety-five countries.

And sure, I’ve read some of the Russian masterworks, some Kafka, some Camus, some Garcia Marquez. And like seemingly everyone and their aunt, I’ve tore through Murakami’s greatest hits. But that amounts to a pitiful handful of translated works. I have yet to explore a vast diverse literary world of non-English output dating back several hundreds of years. That’s a lot of catching up to do. Where to even begin? The task felt downright Herculean.

So I came up with a simple, achievable (well reasonably achievable) plan. I’d embark on my own “Around the World in 80 Books” journey. I’d carefully select eighty countries across the continents, and choose one translated work from each that, to a greater or lesser extent, encapsulates life and the people there. By this I mostly mean that the selected novels must be set within and primarily feature characters of the nationality of said country, i.e. no Sri Lankan written space operas set on a gaseous planet called Methaninus involving a cast of neon green extra-terrestrials who can shoot laser beams out of their octo-eyes, as exciting as that may sound. The aim after all is to attain a fleeting glimpse of the myriad cultures of the globe.

I opened up Google Earth to plot my route. As befits any epic journey, I would set off from home. In my case that’s Malta, a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. From here I could go to Sicily, which is a hop, skip, and jump away. How about Sardinia? I’ve never read any Sardinian literature before. Good a time as any to tick that off the list. Then I could jump over to bella Italia, cross though Greece down to Cyprus, and finish the first leg of my literary tour in Turkey. Researching novels from just these seven countries, I have already compiled an exciting TBR list that I can’t wait to dig into and which includes works from three Nobel Prize winners/nominees (Grazia Deledda, Nikos Kazantzakis, and Orhan Pamuk). Not a bad start.

After my Mediterranean jaunt I plan to trek the desert landscapes of the Middle East, then continue through the sultry Indian subcontinent, and travel ever sunward across East Asia. To keep things manageable, I am limiting myself to these regions for 2018. I’ve mapped out thirty to forty countries and books, which amounts to approximately half my typical yearly average and leaves plenty room for new releases as well as other classic and genre reads should the mood arise. 

I’m aware that even if I do succeed in my resolution there will still be plenty more to explore. Oceania. Latin America. The Caribbean. All of Africa. The rest of Europe. Hawaii! The thought of all these uncharted territories is enough to cause a colossal tidal wave of a panic attack to rise inside me. Fingers crossed, there will come a day when I will be able to say with my head held high that I have circled the literary globe. And then, because distilling an entire country into one single novel is the equivalent of saying “I’ve ate a block of Roquefort, that’s French cuisine off the list”, it will be time to start all over again.


Have you made any bookish resolutions?

Let us know what they are in the comments section below.

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