I am proud and nervous to announce that I’m over halfway through my reading goals for the year! Proud because I don’t think I’ve ever maintained this rate of reading before and nervous because I fear I’ll burn out and not read another word for the rest of the year. Meh, we’ll see. As I mentioned before, I want to read 40 books and complete a reading challenge I created myself. So far I’ve read 27 books and completed these categories:
- A Book From Each Continent
- North America
- South America
- Europe: Under the Glacier (Iceland) by Halldor Laxness
- Africa: Born a Crime (South Africa) by Trevor Noah
- Biography My Life in France by Julia Child
- Science Non-Fiction How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming by Mike Brown
- Ryan Recommended
- From the 18th Century
- By a Louisianan Author
- About a Current Event
- Shakespearean Play
- About or By a United States President
So maybe not halfway through my challenge list. But, I’ve truly been enjoying myself. Part of the fun of my read-a-book-from-every-country goal is settling into a region and getting to “know” it better. Lately I’ve been all over Scandinavia.
You know, for a region that’s supposed to be the happiest in the world, their fiction is full of very dark, homicidal lunatics and the detectives who track them down. I’ve long since read and re-read the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. I fricken love it and re-listen to the audiobooks almost once a year. Another dark, but not as dark, series I’ve discovered this year is from Denmark called Department Q— Denmark adds a new police department, Department Q, with the sole purpose of looking into cold, unsolved cases. At the beginning, the department consists of exactly one detective who has PTSD and one quasi-fluent custodian turned assistant. I’ve read the first three and have enjoyed them all. It has a good balance of character development and interesting mystery.
I’ve also read some Frederik Backman: A Man Called Ove (delightful) and Bear Town (repulsive). Its been fun reading contemporary fiction and getting a sense for things that are the same and things that are different. It’s kinda like England, but then not! Reading Bear Town, I had to constantly remind myself that they were in Sweden and not Michigan. On the other hand, I still have no idea how the neighborhood\complex thing that Ove lives in is laid out. Their driveways face each other? But you can’t drive through there? I just don’t get it.
My favorite find this year has been The Blue Fox by Sjon. It is recently written fable set in 1883 Iceland. I’m not sure what to say about it other than it is a beautiful story. It follows first the local priest on the hunt for an elusive Blue Fox, then introduces us to a local landowner and the young down-syndrome girl who was left in his charge. A flashback shows us how they are all connected and came to be where they are during the fateful winter.
I’ve got my bookmark in a few Scandinavian classics, but my interest slowly wanned. Although I’ve put them aside, I still believe myself when I say I’ll get back to them and finish. So, I haven’t spent all my time in the wide white north. I’ve been trying to take a crack at Africa.
It’s hard to know where to start with such an expansive continent so I’ve been plumbing some “must-read” lists for a mix of contemporary and classics. In addition to Born a Crime, I’ve also read a few books from Nigeria.
I read half of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie but had to put it down because oh my gosh, I just didn’t care about the main character or what happens to her. I did enjoy the vignettes and clashes between Americans, African-Americans and Africans; decoding stereotypes is what I enjoyed the most about the book. I just didn’t like it enough to put up with Ifemelu for another 250 pages. I adore Adichie’s TED talk and do still intend to try another of her novels. Wouldn’t want to judge her on a single story, you know. See what I did there? Eh? Eh?
I’ve read the first two books of The African Trilogy by Chinua Achebe and am grateful for the perspective of modern-day Africans. It is impossible for an American with no ties to any African countries to have an informed opinion of the entire continent (despite what some may say). Hearing the stories that contemporary Africans want told is helping shape a fuller picture in my mind of the history and way of life in such foreign countries. Things Fall Apart has joined Imperial Woman as my favorite stories of colonized peoples.
I am still have some continents to cross off this year and I’d like to choose books from countries I haven’t read from yet. I’m in search for Middle Eastern and Far East Asian books (not from Pakistan or Iran, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia or Singapore). A Mexican book, Central and South American books (not from Chili, El Salvador, Argentina or Bolivia) and anything from Oceania that’s not Australian. Any suggestions?
And as always, I’m open to suggestions from any country (although I can only read English). What are you reading lately? Can you read more than one language or are you a slave to translations like me?