Fjord-side books in Fjaerland, Norway

2019 and Beyond Reading Challenge: Read the World

I’m a huge fan of reading anything and everything I can get my hands on. I’m the kid who would read the backs of menus at a restaurant or shampoo bottles in the bath if there was nothing else available. Reading allows me to visit places, real or imagined, that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. And when I’m stressed and anxious, books help me cope with those feelings, allowing me to escape noise, lights, and the physical sensations that cause me so much angst.

For much of my adult life I wanted to travel the entire world, checking off every country. I’ve narrowed down my physical travel quests to 4 (every US state, every US National Park, every country in Europe, and every continent) but as I was writing my post about those physical quests, I could feel another quest forming in my mind.

I’m going to Read the World.

There are some places that I might not go in this world, and I’ve accepted that. As I’ve written before, I don’t want to let my anxiety shrink my world, but the reality is that some places, as much as I want to see them, seem a bit overwhelming at times. I’m a practical person, and as much as I think I might want to quit my job and travel, I like my life and my job and my home and my family, so this odd mix of home life and travel life is just right for me.

But my curiosity is still piqued. And thus I shall read.

Like any good Upholder (I love you, Gretchen Rubin!), I devised some rules for my Read the World quest:

Rules

  • Read one book, fiction or non-fiction, from each country listed in the Read the World Spreadsheet.
  • A “book” is roughly 100 pages of text. However, it is possible that a shorter “book” might be substituted if the guidelines below are not met (see more details in the following section). Any genre of book is acceptable, though genres of last resort would be picture books/graphic fiction and/or travel guides.
  • “Read” refers to the challenger (me) reading a physical or digital copy of said book. It is my intention at the beginning of this challenge to not include audio books or any video substitutes (though the challenger reserves the right to amend this rule if her (my?) sanity depends on it).
  • “Country” refers to each country in the world at the end of the challenge, as new countries might be added after the 2019 start-date. I have chosen to use the country list from Britannica, the top result of my Google search on the topic. At any time there are about 193 countries in the world, give or take a few. I have added “Antarctica” because even though its not a country it is a continent, a very unique place… and because I said so. I might add other “regions” or “continents” or “areas” at a later time should I so desire.

Okay, so that’s what is set is stone. But here are some further guidelines to guide my quest:

Guidelines

How does one pick a book from a country? There is a hierarchy of books that I have identified.

  • The first choice book for a country would be a) authored by someone who is native to said country and b) sets their book in said country. For example, I enjoy reading books by Irish author John Boyne — he was born in Dublin and sets many of his books in parts of Ireland.
  • The second choice book for a country would be a) authored by someone who has resided for considerable time in said country and b) sets their book in said country. For example, my husband was born in America but grew up in Mexico and moved to America in his early-20s. If he were to write and set a book in America, that would be a second choice to someone who had lived most or all of their life in the country.
  • Then things get a little fuzzier for me, especially as I have not does as much research into some of the smaller countries as I would have liked to have done by this time (oh well). The essence of the challenge is to get a sense of culture and place from each of the countries on this list — so then should one prioritize someone writing about a country that is not their own (someone who has visited, for example) or a writer from a country writing about something else entirely (something set in another country or in a fantasy world)? One of my biggest considerations here is what happens when we allow other people to speak for us. Think of countries that have been colonized or ruled or oppressed by other nations or powers. Does it make sense to read their accounts of a place and accept it for truth? For this reason I will take this on a case-by-case basis, attempting to select the best possible book for a country if the first two cases are not met.
  • Finally, what about nationless peoples or countries with considerable ethnic, cultural, political, and religious divisions? Can one say that one understands Israel without reading about the land through Palestinian eyes? What about populations like the Rohingya, forced out of Myanmar? Or even in the United States — the perspective of Native Americans, African-Americans, and white Americans would differ greatly. These are considerations I would like to make as I choose books for each country, but as I am currently committing to reading one book from each, I know it won’t be possible to understand the world in this quest — just to get a better sense of it.
  • I am tracking all of these books in my Google Spreadsheet which you can view here. I’m welcoming any and all recommendations for books that I can read for any country, though I have a few countries already covered because I was already gifted the books (I’m looking at you, Iceland, the USA, Germany and Ireland!). Just add a comment to this blog post with your recommendations so I can consider them for my list.
  • One thing that might be a challenge — I’m more or less a monoglot. I can get by in Spanish and French and fake my way through basic German and Italian, but I am by no means fluent in any other languages. This means that I’ll need English translations, and that alone will restrict the books that I’ll be able to read, as books that are available in translation have been judged to have enough “international value” to have them translated. I anticipate that this will be a challenge for me, but I am curious to see how it plays out as the quest continues.

So — there you have it! I’m very excited to start on this multi-year Read the World quest! I anticipate that I’ll post periodic updates about my progress, both about what books I’m enjoying and what I’m learning at a micro level as well as looking at the process and what I’m learning at a macro level. You can always follow my book reviews on Goodreads — I just set my 2019 Reading Challenge Goal to 100 books!

Happy reading, friends!

Cheers, Sarah

P.S. I’m taking a new approach to setting goals and intentions this year. I went very, very granular last year, and that worked in some ways but it left me a bit unsatisfied in others. So this year I’m focused more on how I’m being (as opposed to just what I’m doing — thanks coach certification), and also getting clear on what my why is (why I’m doing what I’m doing). This is going to mean that I’ll have to confront failures, assumptions, and all of my negative self talk — wheeeeeeee! I think it’s going to be challenging, but, in the end, very helpful.

NW native blogging about life’s struggles and triumphs. Balancing career, family, hobbies, and health. Fierce advocate for mental health. And chocolate lover.