Armchair BEA: Beyond Borders
The challenge I have with the topic for Day 4 of Armchair BEA isn’t one of deciding what to write – it’s more a case of deciding when to stop writing. Today is all about one of my current passions: reading outside our geographic boundaries and cultural frames of reference. Given that I’m in the second year of my world literature quest, this is a great opportunity to talk about the experience of reading books by authors from countries outside my native land.
My adventures into world literature started in January 2013 when I felt my reading was getting a bit too ‘safe’. In my mid teens I spent the whole of one summer just reading classics written by Russian, German and French ‘great novelists’ . I can’t say I understood it all but it did jolt me out of my comfort zone.
Somehow over the years that spirit of adventure dwindled and I realised late in 2012 that I’d slipped a bit too far back into my comfort zone since most of the authors I was reading had the same frame of reference as my own. They were either British or American. I sometimes ventured a little further afield to France courtesy of Gustav Flaubert or Emile Zola. But there were great swathes of the world, like China or South America that I never touched. I decided to make 2013 the year that would begin to change.
I started with a general goal: read books by writers from 50 different countries. Just to make the goal a little more fun, I decided to start by choosing authors from countries along the Equator and the Prime Meridian. It sounded easy at the time − just find the author/book and go and buy them.
Hm, not so easy in practice. I’ve really struggled to find authors from some of the countries on my list. If I find them, then their work isn’t easily available in English or the price is astronomical ($99 in one case). The main bookstore chains in both UK and USA don’t offer many options. Sure, if you want something from South America it’s easy to get novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez but if your want to go beyond the ‘big names’ you’ll really struggle. Bookshops clearly don’t see a big market in translated books which is such a shame because there are so many authors whose work deserves more exposure.
But I’ve made progress. So far I’ve read novels by authors from 17 different countries – my world literature reading list is here; I’ve completed six of the 13 countries that lie along the Equator and 4 of the eight countries that are linked by the Prime Meridian.
Through these books I’ve learned about the symbolism of textile patterns in Ghana (this came from a crime fiction novel called Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey); the importance of wedding jewellery in India (Neel Mukherjee’s new novel The Lives of Others) and the issues of female independence in Somalia (from Nurradin Farah’s The Fractured Rib).
It’s been a wonderful experience. I wish more people would join me on my adventure.
Want to be involved?
It takes quite an effort to identify good authors to read in some countries. Fortunately I’ve had wonderful help from some of my colleagues in different parts of the world (I’m lucky enough to work for a multinational company) but some even more special people who are fellow bloggers. I’ve featured a number of them in a series I call The View From Here in which I interview bloggers about the literature from their country and their recommendations on books/authors to read. You can see those interviews on the View from Here page.
I’m always looking for other bloggers to feature so if you would like to represent your country and be featured in a future post, please let me know by leaving a comment below.
If you have any recommendations for authors in some of the countries I have yet to visit, let me know