One of my lifelong dreams is to travel around the world. Unfortunately, not having money prevents this particular dream from becoming a reality. Or does it?
Recently, I’ve realized that I have been a world traveler. I discovered the quest undertaken by blogger Ann Morgan in 2012 where she dedicated herself to reading a book from each country in the world. Her project A Year of Reading the World developed into her first book and made her a champion of the reading community. While she is an incredible inspiration to this little blogger, I realize that achieving that goal of nearly 200 books will take some time. However, I have developed an interest in exploring books from other countries. One of my goals for this year is to participate actively in the 2019 European Reading Challenge as well as continuing to sample works from all over the globe.
Books offer the ability of traveling to anywhere on this great globe of ours without ever leaving the comforts of home. Reading from different countries can also have some tremendous benefits:
Knowledge of other cultures
The world of fiction instantly transports you to another world, where everything is different. By reading a wide variety of authors, you get a better view of other cultures and places. By expanding your horizons, you get to see other countries, other people and so many other things beyond your greatest imagination.
Every page you read fills your head with some of the history and traditions of other countries. In addition, you may find a destination you would love to visit physically. It all starts with a book.
This benefit connects to the one above.
Recently, I finished a novel from a writer who lived for a short time in a small town in Germany. The book included some German vocabulary so I often felt like I was getting a basic language tutorial. Reading books is a vital component for learning new languages through exposure to how those words are used in context.
Connections to the wider world
According to studies such as this one from Scientific American, reading fiction increases empathy. As a psychologist, this make total sense. When I’m reading, I quickly feel like a participant in events, absorbing the emotions of the characters.
We can always share whatever we have read with our family, friends and colleagues. All this reading increases our interpersonal interactions. Human beings are social creatures and in the world of advanced technology, we are losing our ability to socialize. However, reading does offer the opportunities at socialization, such as book clubs or even commenting on a friendly blog 🙂
Insight into different styles of writing
All the good writers who teach others the craft will tell you the same thing. If you want to be a good writer, you need to read. A lot. Reading offers boundless opportunities at enhancing your creativity. Through examining a variety of writers and styles, you can learn different approaches to enhancing your own writing. As you improve your own writing skills, your ability to communicate develops even further.
Reading is fuel for the imagination. Books are also reflections of an author’s views and mindset. As you acquire greater knowledge of different writers, those styles merge into your own, helping you to create your own unique style. Adding diversity will certainly add flavor to your writing.
As a child, I used to watch a weekly show from a local bookstore owner where he would review the latest releases. I loved his energy and enthusiasm for books. You could say he was my earliest inspiration into falling in love with the written word. He ended each week with the same quote, “The more you read, the more you grow.” I never realized until right this moment, how that quote has stayed ingrained in my soul since childhood (like seriously, this is happening right now).
So rather than engaging in reading of only a singular culture and lifestyle, it is valuable to absorb the literature of many different countries. Then, you can have the honor of being a well-traveled reader too.
Finally, here are a few personal recommendations from the countries I’ve visited:
Canada: Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint
Nobody can write fantasy like Charles de Lint. I highly recommend beginning with this collection of beautiful short stories set in the fictional town of Newford. These stories are flowing with magic and beauty.
Czech Republic: The Trial by Franz Kafka
If surrealism is your bag, then you should definitely check out a work by Franz Kafka. Having previously read his short story “The Metamorphosis” and his novel The Castle, I went into this one having some idea of what to expect. Kafka takes this absurdist tale to a whole other level with this story about a man who is trying to find answers against an oppressive court system.
France: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This modern fable is one of the best books ever written. Combined with beautiful illustrations, prepare to have some tissues on hand. The plot is simple, but the meaning is universal. I can’t wait to have a ‘little prince’ of my own someday so I can read this book to him.
Germany: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant
I recently read this novel because the description felt like a nightmare straight from a Brothers Grimm story. While not what I was expecting at all, I did find this book to be quite a charming one that emphasized how stories are used to make sense of tragedies.
Ireland: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
I still remember writing a paper on this book for a college humanities class. My computer crashed, and I had to rewrite the entire paper from memory on the due date. Fortunately, I loved this novel so much that it was fun to rewrite all of my thoughts about it. This is a novel that is pure genius, one of the best satires ever composed. It is also a fantastic adventure.
Italy: If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
My first experience with Calvino is still highly memorable. He is definitely one of the world’s most innovative writers, as evidenced by this experimental story of a lost book. Calvino’s brilliance lies in how the reader becomes intimately engaged with the book.
Japan: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
I count Murakami among my favorite writers. This novel was my first book from him, and it has stayed with me today. I highly recommend this one as the way to get the full Murakami experience. He really is the David Lynch of novel writing.
Korea: The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Speaking of Murakami, this writer is the closest I’ve discovered to matching that same eerie and detached style. This story about a woman who gives up eating meat turns into a work that is quite shocking. The Vegetarian is an impressive and disturbing debut novel. Despite its dark content, it is beautifully written. There is a dreamlike quality to the writing that is unforgettable.
Netherlands: Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Isserley spends her days driving the Scottish Highlands searching for hitchhikers. She has certain rules for those that she picks up. The ones that get chosen will never be found again. This is another novel that is sick, twisted, and will definitely make you think long after you finish it. Under the Skin is a masterful work by a truly gifted novelist.
Poland: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
After studying this work in college, I’ve loved Joseph Conrad and now own several of his novels. Heart of Darkness is short but tells a powerful story about the horrors of colonialism and the evil that lies deep inside us. Conrad’s writing is quite poetic despite the darkness of the material, and you often feel like you are reading a dream.
Portugal: Death with Interruptions by José Saramago
There are some books that move you so much that you must make it your life’s purpose to read every single work by that particular author. This novel is about what happens when death stops happening, and is actually two stories told very differently. If you have not read anything by Saramago, you should definitely pick up one of his works.
Russia: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
This is the story of S 854. He is a prisoner in one of the most inhospitable climates you could ever imagine. Each day is a struggle to survive as he and his fellow “zeks” just hope to make it to the next morning. All manners of threats abound this alien world, such as their evil oppressors, fellow inmates, and even the weather itself. This is a great piece of Russian literature that is well worth your time.
This is the absurdly comical story of centenarian Allan Karlsson. On the day of the 100th birthday, he makes the spontaneous decision to run away from the nursing home that he is trapped in with no plans for the future. One of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read, I can’t recommend this one enough.
United Kingdom: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
While Sense and Sensibility kicked off my fascination with Austen, Northanger Abbey totally ignited it. My rankings of the others shift sometimes, but this one always manages to stay number one. I’m a huge fan of satire, and Austen completely nails it with one of the most fascinating heroines I’ve ever encountered. Honestly, you just can’t go wrong with anything by Austen, which is the reason I’m rereading all of her novels this year.
I hope you have enjoyed my little world tour. I would love to hear about some works from other countries that you enjoy.