A personal challenge to read the world

I gave up on book challenges a year or so ago. Part of it stemmed from the fact that, as I’ve said earlier this year, I want to read what I want to read when I feel like reading it. While I still let a few book reviews impact that, I’ve stuck pretty close to the course. Last week, though, I heard about a project by Ann Morgan.

A British journalist, Morgan decided to celebrate the 2012 London Olympics in a unique fashion. She is halfway through reading her way through as many of the world’s 196 independent countries as she can. Perhaps as impressive, she is trying to do it in one year.

I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of her effort before but it has kind of inspired me. Anyone who reads this blog knows I am a fan of translated literature. So I’m going to attempt something similar — but I’m going to make it easier. First, I’m not going to put time constraints on it. Second, I’m not going to do every nation. Currently, my thought is the 100 most populous nations, excluding the U.S., Great Britain and Russia because I’ve read plenty from those countries. Finally, I’m going to include books I’ve read in the last five years, which is about when my translated literature kick began.

I’m sure I will face many of the questions Morgan has. Does the book have to be written in the country’s native language? For example, although Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller’s fiction deals with her native Romania, she writes in German. (Morgan counts one of her books as Romanian.) What if the author is a native of the country but the story isn’t about or set it the country? (For me it will be.) Is it enough that the story is about that country? A case in point: The Kite Runner is written by someone born in Afghanistan and is set in part there but was written in English in the U.S. (Morgan lists it for Afghanistan.)

I’m not too concerned about finding books, though. In addition to the list Morgan has compiled, there’s Lonely Planet’s tremendous The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World, as well as a “Book Lust” release by Nancy Pearl about two years ago.

I’m sure the boundaries will ebb and flow as the project progresses. I don’t know to what extent I’ll review or blog about any of the books but I will have a separate page on the blog devoted to my progress.

What is really best in any book is translatable.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Books,” Society and Solitude

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