March 1, 2016

Reading the World

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:25 by Miracle

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Book challenges rarely catch my attention, but “A Year of Reading the World” is particularly appealing to me. It could be for the reason that reading through this list approximates to traveling around the world, but it could also be for the sole reason of who invited me to take up the challenge – a dear friend, who has earned the respect, and title of heroine, from booklovers in the country and around the world.

It just so happens that the first book I finished reading this year was Pamuk’s Snow. It is filed first on the list under Turkey. There is a passage in the book that goes, “He thought of his mother, who had so wanted him to have a normal life and tried so hard to keep him away from poetry and literature.” How suitable to begin with an author who is alive to the cataclysm that poetry and literature brings to normal life!

The first and only book challenge that I imposed on myself was several years ago when I made it a goal to read the unabridged editions of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Hugo’s Les Misérables, Mann’s Doktor Faustus among other masterpieces almost frantically for fear that I would get married, have kids, and not have enough time to read. Even though I have read them, I remain unmarried. So, yes, I acknowledge with a laugh that the urgency was rather futile.

And here I am faced with another book challenge.  If I am to be completely honest, I do not think I can read 196 books from all the countries in the world within a single year, book sourcing and time being the main issues.

According to Ann Morgan, the woman who started this reading challenge, “There’s precious little on offer for states such as the Comoros, Madagascar, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique – I had to rely on unpublished manuscripts for several of these. And when it came to the tiny island nation of Sao Tome & Principe, I would have been stuck without a team of volunteers in Europe and the US who translated a book of short stories by Santomean writer Olinda Beja just so that I could have something to read.

Then there were places where stories are rarely written down. If you’re after a good yarn in the Marshall Islands, for example, you’re more likely to go and ask the local iroij’s (chief’s) permission to hear one of the local storytellers than you are to pick up a book. Similarly, in Niger, legends have traditionally been the preserve of griots (expert narrators-cum-musicians trained in the nation’s lore from around the age of seven). Written versions of their fascinating performances are few and far between – and can only ever capture a small part of the experience of listening for yourself.

If that wasn’t enough, politics threw me the odd curveball too. The foundation of South Sudan on 9 July 2011 – although a joyful event for its citizens, who had lived through decades of civil war to get there – posed something of a challenge. Lacking roads, hospitals, schools or basic infrastructure, the six-month-old country seemed unlikely to have published any books since its creation. If it hadn’t been for a local contact putting me in touch with writer Julia Duany, who penned me a bespoke short story, I might have had to catch a plane to Juba and try to get someone to tell me a tale face to face.

All in all, tracking down stories like these took as much time as the reading and blogging. It was a tall order to fit it all in around work and many were the nights when I sat bleary-eyed into the small hours to make sure I stuck to my target of reading one book every 1.87 days.”

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.” As a person who loves literature, I used to cringe at this line, but as soon as I met more interesting characters outside book pages, saw wonderful places and experienced an ineffable life beyond book covers and realized how magical reality is compared to fiction, I made peace with Robert Louis Stevenson’s quote.

Books and book lists should only serve to remind us of what we might be overlooking, but we should not allow these to add pressure to our lives or constrain us.  The real challenge is in going and living beyond them.

I will be updating this list with the books that I have leisurely read for this challenge.  I will still be reading the world, but I plan to do this throughout my whole life. Oh, come to think of it; if you’re a reader, you’ve already been doing this your whole life.

Afghanistan: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (February 2016)
“She said, ‘I’m so afraid.’ And I said, ‘Why?,’ and she said, ‘Because I’m profoundly happy, Dr. Rasul. Happiness like that is frightening… They only let you be this happy if they’re preparing to take something from you.”

France: Recollections by Colette (April 2016)
“One grows weary of suppressing what one has never said –“

Germany: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (March 2016)
“It seems to me… that love is the most important thing in the world.”

Italy: If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino (July 2016)
“…to transmit the writable that waits to be written, the tellable that nobody tells.”

Japan: South of the Border, West of the Sun by Harumi Murakami (June 2016)
“But I didn’t understand then. That I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair.”

Philippines: 20 Speeches that Moved a Nation (May 2016)
“Read about the past so the future will not ambush you again.”

Turkey: The Museum of Innocence by Pamuk (August 2016)
“I’m not indignant,” I said indignantly.

Turkey: Snow by Orhan Pamuk (January 2016)
“Doesn’t life make us unhappy?”
“No, we do that to ourselves.”

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