Posted by: biblioglobal | January 11, 2016

Books from eighty countries and more

Apparently I got tired of writing review-ish posts of the books I was reading. WordPress tells me that I only posted 14 times in all of 2015. But I’ve reached the 80 book milestone in my book-from-every-country project and I don’t want to completely lose track of what I’ve been reading, so it is time for an update.

Digging through old computer files the other day, I found a forgotten Excel file calculating the number of books I should have read by each month to stay on track to finish the project in 10 years. I was thinking that I’m a bit behind schedule, but it turns out I’m ahead! Back in 2012 I calculated that by January 2016 I should have read books from 78 countries. In fact, I’m currently at 83.

Where I’ve been:

Two books that that I did post about: Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohammed (Somalia) and Homeless Rats by Ahmed Fagih (Libya). The rest:

#73 Trinidad and Tobago: The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace- A novel of Carnival and how life in one poor neighborhood revolves around the holiday. It even has the rhythm of Carnival in its language. The feeling of hopelessness that dominates made it a challenging read for me, but I’m glad I read it.

#74 Argentina: Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges- I expected to love or hate Borges, so I was surprised to find myself somewhere in the middle. I loved The Lottery of Babylon and The Library of Babel. While I found the premise of many of the stories interesting, I found some of them tiresome to actually read.  Borges famously said, “‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library”, so I find it funny that in the The Library of Babel he seems to describe a kind of library hell.

#75 Cambodia: In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddy Rattner- This tells the story of a young girl during the takeover of the country by the Khmer Rouge. It’s semi-autobiographical, the author also went through the horrors experienced by her heroine, so I feel bad saying this, but I thought the writing was a bit lacking.

#76 South Africa: The Alphabet of Birds by S. J. Naude- It felt strange to be reading a South African book that wasn’t about race. Or at least mostly not about race. But I suppose it shouldn’t be necessary for every South African book to be about race. I enjoyed the way many of the short stories in this book told essentially the same story, just with different characters, and others inter-linked in other ways. And the writing was excellent.

#77 Russia: The Spectre of Alexander Wolf by Gaito Gazdanov- The first sentence reads: “Of all my memories, of all my life’s innumerable sensations, the most onerous was that of the single murder I had committed.” Isn’t that just how you’d think a Russian novel ought to start?

#78 Belarus: Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievitch- This year’s Nobel Prize winner who I’m kicking myself for not reading before she got the Nobel Prize. The book an oral history of the experiences of Belorussians and Ukrainians during and after the Chernobyl disaster. I learned a lot from reading it, not just about Chernobyl itself, but also about how life worked in the U.S.S.R. Voices from Chernobyl is very similar in structure to the book I read for Rwanda, The Antelope Strategy. Both excellent, important books about tough topics.

#79 Sweden: The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg- I’ve read and loved several quirky nature/science memoirs about unusual organisms (Gathering Moss and The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating). The Fly Trap, about hoverflies, therefore sounded quite appealing. Where I went wrong, apparently, is in expecting something categorized as under “Nature” to have some actual natural history in it. Instead The Fly Trap is not about flies at all, but about a writer (I wouldn’t call him an entomologist) and his obsessions.

#80 Albania: Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones- Albania has an old tradition whereby a woman can take on the social role of a man by taking an oath to live always as a man and which includes a promise to never have sex. Sworn Virgin is the fictional tale of Hana/Mark who has decided to reclaim her life as a woman. It’s not such an easy thing to do though. An intriguing topic and I thought it was well handled.

The most memorable:

Out of this set, I’d say that Voices from Chernobyl and and Homeless Rats were the most memorable. Homeless Rats was memorable for being quite different from anything I’ve read so far, with its perspective switching between humans and animals. Voices from Chernobyl– my newfound love for oral history strikes again.

Where I’m headed:

Well, I’ve now actually already ready books from Pakistan, Vietnam, and Republic of Congo.I’m currently reading a book that I’m going to count for Zambia.

I checked up on my progress by region and to my surprise, Asia is the continent I’ve covered the most of, with 50% of countries read. I’m also doing well with Africa and North America. Despite some progress, I’m still behind on South America. Oceania is not far ahead of South America. So I’ll try to plan some reading there. The challenge is that I moved to a new city last fall and my library access is no longer as amazing as it used to be. It’s still very good and I shouldn’t complain. It just means that I’m going to need to put in inter-library loan orders for books from those tiny island nations of Oceania!



  1. Nice! I’m doing a similar thing and although I’ve read books from many countries over the years I’m just now going to keep track of them. South America has always been hardest for me, (just got one from Brazil last week) although there are several regions of Africa which are very difficult. Asia really is amazingly easy.

    • Keeping track is fun! I feel like South America *shouldn’t* be hard, but for me anyway it is. What’s your Brazil book?

  2. That is some reading! Impressive! A friend of mine wanted to do something similar and I pointed her to your direction for ideas and thoughts! She was snowed by the sheer breath of what you have covered! Just mindblowing!

    • Thanks! It’s gradual, but at this point I feel like I’ve built up a pretty respectable list. I hope your friend has a good reading adventure!

  3. My count is still sadly low at 37. My highest coverage are also Asia, and Europe, and I’m also low on South America and Oceania so I look forward to your selections. I plan to concentrate on Africa this year.

    • 37 is still a lot! I’ve really enjoyed exploring Africa. Lots of great books, though some countries are much easier to find books for than others. The amount of writing from Nigeria is amazing, something I had no idea of before starting this project.

      • Understandable, as quite a few countries in Africa were more recently formed. Nigeria is definitely one of the strongest in terms of literature. Before I officially started the project I already read Chimamanda Adichie and Chinua Achebe 🙂 and I’ll be reading Wole Soyinka, the Nobel prize winner soon.

  4. Fwiw, I’m at 46 but I don’t remember the names of them all – maybe I should put that in parentheses at my site.

  5. You doing really well on your project! And thanks for the reminder about Voices from Chernobyl. I keep meaning to get on the list for it at my library and then forgetting. So I immediately went and added my name 🙂

    • It’s an excellent one! The beginning of the book talk about the medical consequences and I wasn’t sure how much of that I was going to handle reading about, but then it moves on to a much wider range of subjects.

  6. Wow, that’s an impressive progress! I love that your previous library had such a good collection of books. Someday, I will be back on this bandwagon. Someday. Voices from Chernobyl is one that I want to read – it does sound pretty good.

    • Good, yes. Happy, no. But you probably already guessed that.

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