So today I want to talk about how I physically compiled my World Reading List. Since there are 194 official countries in the world (not including areas like Palestine and Taiwan), that meant this was going to be a 194+ book list.
That’s a long list.
And where to even begin? What should my list include – all fiction? All nonfiction? All poetry? Should it be targeted at adults? Or can I include kids’ books as well?
SO MANY CHOICES.
But don’t panic! I’m here to guide you through this process as smoothly as possible.
First off, let’s establish why I created this reading list. I’ve already covered the Why in my last post, Why read the world?, so I won’t get into that too much. For me, this was a reading list just for my own personal reading. I wanted to learn about other countries and cultures, but I did NOT want it to feel like a chore!
This meant that my list is almost entirely made up of fiction, which is what I read the most. I did add quite a bit of poetry in here as well, but I mainly focused on fiction. I also made the point to choose recent fiction. (This meant I couldn’t cheat and re-read The Count of Monte Cristo for France). The point was to read something new to me – something I hadn’t read before, and might not have read if I hadn’t started this project. I almost included a couple titles that were aimed at older kids (middle school aged), but chose not to at the last minute.
I also decided that not only did I want the book to be set in the country it was allotted for, but I also wanted the author to be from that country as well. Basically, I was trying to avoid reading a whole bunch of books about different areas of the world…but were all written by white people, and therefore all had a similar voice. The point of this project was not only to learn new things, but to hear different stories from different viewpoints. I figured I would much rather hear an Iraqi’s story from a Iraqi’s POV, rather than from a British journalist POV, or an American soldier POV, or whatever.
This really rang home for me when I saw the prologue from one of my favorites so far from this project, Only God can make a tree by Bertram Roach:
“The story tells of post-slavery Caribbean life. It details the culture, the festivities, the realities of the period and place. This is not the usual story of slavery, pirates, and local stories. It tells of what happened to the offspring of the slaves and the mixture of the races.
Non-Caribbean authors have written books after brief encounters on the islands, taking back a notebook full of local gossip. One, Island in the sun, was a bestseller and was made into a film.
I grew up on a sugar plantation in St Kitts and Nevis. The stories I tell are my real stories. To protect the identity of the people involved, I have changed the names and some of the places.”
And that’s not to say that stories by journalists and soldiers and tourists and whatever don’t have their place – they certainly do! But they cannot and should not be the only, or even the main voice for a region. I think that when an outside voice starts to become the main voice for an area, what the people that live there actually think, feel, and experience can get largely overlooked and pushed to the side. Maybe not on purpose, or even consciously done, but it still happens. Every country is perfectly capable of producing talented artists and authors to tell their country’s stories, and I for one want to give them the courtesy of listening to what they have to say.
So here is what I did. I made a list of all the countries in the world (plus some, like Palestine, etc.) and sorted them into continents, because I apparently sucked really hard at geography and kept getting countries in South America and Africa confused (YOU KNOW YOU DO SOMETHING SIMILAR SO DON’T LAUGH). I then started off using this list, but after looking up a few of the titles I quickly saw that not all of them were going to work for me. First of all, not all of her titles were available at my local library, and I wasn’t about to go out and buy 200 new books for this project.
So I turned to Google. Fun fact: if you Google something like “iraqi authors,” you get this hand-dandy mini slideshow at the top!
Thanks Google! From here, I picked an author I thought might be interesting (sometimes I vaguely recognized a name, or I saw someone close to my age, or whatever). Again, since I was going for modern fiction, I tended to shy away from the older authors – which may not have been entirely fair – but I do have some choices on my list from some aged writers.
Then I turned to WorldCat. WorldCat is owned by OCLC. You know how you can use your local library’s website to search for books? WorldCat searches ALL of the libraries, and tells you the closest library that has the item you’re looking for. So, say you live in Dallas, Texas, and you’re looking for a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. Just search for the title, click on one of the choices that pops up, and plug in your zip code, and LOOK! A copy is available at the Dallas Public Library.
I love WorldCat.
Anyway. So that’s basically how I searched for all of the titles on my list, so I wasn’t buying a shitload of books. I am fortunate to live in the capital of my state, so not only do I have a large public library available to me, but I also have the state library and a couple university libraries available to me. I am only able to use the university libraries if I pay a donation fee, but that’s ok – it’s better than spending a lot more money on a ton of books!
There are still PLENTY of books that I wasn’t able to find – especially for some of the tinier countries, like Fiji. Most likely I will end up buying a lot of books for countries like this. I already bought Only God can make a tree, but I loved it so much that I have zero regrets.
I also kind of feel like this list is almost constantly going to be a work in progress, until I have completely finished reading a book from every country. This is due in part to new books being published that sound more interesting, or another title suddenly becoming available at a library closer to my work or home, or whatever. I’ll call it a living organism 🙂
If you have any questions about how I put my list together, or if you have suggestions, comment below or find me on Twitter @ProjLibrarian. I’d love to hear from you!