I was crazy about maps when I was little. When other kids had posters of superheroes or horses, I had a 24×36 world map that I would happily spend an afternoon staring at, looking at all those brightly colored countries and the strange-to-me city names, wondering where I might go when I grew up. I did the same thing with the little globe we owned. I’d spin it over and over again, stopping it with a finger and imagining that I would one day live in whatever city I landed on.
My love of maps didn’t ebb as I grew up. If anything, MapQuest and its successor, Google Maps, have made it worse. Give me a snow day, and I’m just as likely to spend it wandering the streets of Paris or Rome via Google’s street view as I am reading.
Once I got to be an adult with a job that allowed me to set money aside for things like travel, I started going places. U.S. states at first- Florida, Minnesota, Colorado. My first attempt at semi-solo travel was to Chicago, where I spent four wonderful days wandering about on my own, visiting museums, getting lost, and generally having a brilliant time walking around by day and spending my evenings at a friend’s apartment. After reading Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, about her trek along the Pacific Crest Trail, I decided to put my courage to the test, stop waiting for my friends to be ready for international travel, and just go. That was the best decision I ever made.
Nowadays, people are accustomed to my up and going somewhere new, and they’re as likely to ask, ‘Where are you going this time?’ as ‘How are you today?’.
No matter what I do, though, I’ll never get to all the countries of the world. I neither have a job that takes me around the world, nor the money to take a few years off and travel the globe.
But. I can read books from just about everywhere in the world. It’s something I’ve slowly been making an effort to do over the past few years. And until recently, I thought I’d been doing alright. I have (surprise!) a Google Map devoted to keeping track of the books I’ve read by international authors, and there seemed to be so very many pins on the map!
At the beginning of this year, I put PopSugar’s 2017 reading challenge in the beginning of my bullet journal with all the good intentions that one has at the beginning of the year. I abandoned that reading list early on. By the first of February, at the latest. But because hope springs eternal- especially when New Year’s Resolutions start coming around- I decided that in 2018, I am going to work on reading more international books. I dutifully sat down and made a list of the countries listed on the United Nations’ website:
Then, using the Google Map I’d set up to keep track of the international books I’d read, I filled in the blanks with the titles I’d read and their authors.
I thought I would fill in a lot of the blanks, but it turns out that I haven’t been reading nearly as internationally as I thought I was.
I read a lot. 106 books so far this year, and yet my record for reading non-Western authors is abysmal. So in 2018, I’m going to make a concerted effort to correct this. The older I get, the more I realize that I know very little about the world, and reading books from the various countries of the world is one of the best ways to learn about these places, short of actually traveling there.
Right now, I’m thinking of setting a goal of reading 100 books next year, and 75 of them should be from international authors. I know that I told myself I’d never set a 100 book goal before, but as the point of a goal is to get yourself to stretch out and test your limits, I think 100 is reasonable. The stretch will be the 75 international books. My local public library system is fantastic and has a lot of books by authors from all over (it’s a reflection of our growing community of immigrants and refugees), but I’m not sure how many different countries are represented in their stacks. There will certainly be some purchasing in my future (I already have a long list at abesbooks.com), and that’s perfectly fine. A bibliophile needs few reasons to buy new books.
I will, in the next month and a half, have to set some rules for myself. While I love history, I can’t just read ancient history books and expect to learn about, say, modern Egypt. Should I only read fiction, or is non-fiction about the country acceptable as long as it’s written by a writer from that country?
I have a feeling I’ll be referencing Ann Morgan’s book, The World Between Two Covers quite often as I prepare for this particular challenge. Her TED Talk is where I got this idea, and reading her book made me want to do the same thing. Unlike Morgan, though, I’m not planning to read a book from every country in a single year. As fast as I read, I don’t have a job that allows me to spend hours reading each day (I may be in the wrong career). But I have a love of books and reading, a love of travel, and a ridiculous amount of curiosity to keep me moving forward.
So does anyone have any ideas about what boundaries I should set for myself and my goal of 75 international books in 2018? Fiction only? Twentieth-century and newer?
And, more importantly, does anyone out there have suggestions about what I should read? No American, British, or (oddly) Icelandic writers here. I’m looking for your favorite picks from Africa and South America. Eastern Europe. The countries of the South Pacific. Books from anywhere and everywhere.
What should I read?