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:
#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!