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the 'Read the World' Challenge

What I'm Doing

In the summer of 2022, I decided to set out to 'read the world'. The aim - read at least one book from every country on Earth. No time scales or deadlines - it's all about the journey.

Why I'm Doing It

The 'Read the World' challenge is all about reading more widely and diversely.

 

At some point in my early 20s,  I set about trying to read all the 'classics', thinking reading the 'top 100 must-read books of all time' would help me develop my mind. After a while though, I began to feel as if this was only narrowing my horizons, not broadening them. While many of the classics are historically important and occupy that status for a reason, the overall lists of 'books you should read' are often overwhelmingly homogenous and lacking in diversity, and some of them left a very sour taste in my mouth for the outdated perspectives and not-so-thinly-veiled misogyny and racism (I'm looking at you, Heart of Darkness). 

I began to find that a lot of the books I enjoyed the most were those from very different perspectives to my own, including international publications and translated works. Gradually, my ideas around how we conceptualise 'important' books and what makes somebody 'well read' shifted. But, despite picking up several few such books over the years and feeling my bookshelf was diverse, when taking stock I realised I had still only touched a tiny fraction of the literary world, and so, the desire to read the world with greater purpose was born!

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There are so many fantastic books by non British/American authors out there - the challenge is all about discovering these, then championing, sharing and discussing them with other readers. At a time when the world seems to feel more divided than ever, despite our ever increasing global connectivity, reading can offer a window into other cultures and so create a better understanding of our world and encourage us to reflect and think more critically. Plus, it also provides a means to travel and experience all the corners of the Earth without needing to leave the living room!

Okay, I'll get down off my soap box now, but I hope this site might at least encourage readers to pick up a new book, if not take on the challenge...

How I'm Doing It

The Rules

When I decided to start the challenge, I quickly found that I'm of course not the only one attempting it, but there are plenty of different approaches to the challenge with different 'rules' applied being taken by different readers.

I have just set myself one major 'rule' - and that is that for a book to be 'from' a country, it should be by an author from that country, not just set there. I'm defining 'from' based on the author's self-identified nationality - they may live there, have been born there, or be part of the diaspora.

That is the only 'essential' criteria for a book to count towards the challenge. However, the 'desirable' criteria for the challenge are:

  • Where possible, the book should be set in the country, and/or be influenced by its people and culture

  • Where relevant/possible, indigenous authors should be prioritised 

  • The final reading list should represent a wide range of perspectives in terms of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation etc.

The Countries

There's no escaping the shifting and sometimes superficial nature of borders, and the status of a nation as a sovereign country is very dependent on who you ask.  However, I wanted a clear number to track my progress against, and so I opted to follow previous challenger Ann Morgan (A Year of Reading the World) in using the UN's list of recognised countries (plus Palestine and Taiwan) giving me a total of196 to aim for.

It's important to recognise that the UN's list is biased towards an Occidental perspective of the world and therefore far from perfect (Ann also discusses this on her website). So, while 196 is my base number, I'm also trying to read as many books from non-recognised countries, non-self governing territories and stateless nations as possible. 

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The Books

 

Obtaining books from 196+ countries is no easy feat, and I'm trying to complete the challenge as economically and sustainably as possible.

I'm lucky enough to have some fantastic second-hand and charity bookshops near me, and much of my weekends are spend digging through the shelves looking for world literature. As such, a lot of my choices for each country are completely opportunistic based on what I can find, rather than being deliberate choices - it's kind of like playing book roulette. So far, it seems to be working out pretty well and I've enjoyed most of what I've read, even books I would have probably completely overlooked if not for the challenge! With that being said, I do still tend to gravitate towards certain genres - literary and historical fiction, and memoirs, are always my go-to choices and usually the best at giving me a sense of a country, I feel.

In some cases, where there are more hard-to-find countries, I'm instead sourcing books online, pre-loved if possible. The closer I get to my goal, the harder things are going to become, so I imagine there will be an element of creativity involved, and perhaps some book swapping with my fellow challenge takers.

If you've stumbled across my page and are still reading this far, I'm assuming its because you are also interested in reading the world - if so, please check out my reading list to see which books I've read so far, and have a look at my blog and my resource list for suggestions and recommendations. I would love to hear from you if you are also taking on the challenge - so please, reach out :)

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