Greetings, readers! I don’t know about you, but as far as I am concerned, today’s weather is the perfect justification for just staying put with a stack of books. Whether you have adopted the blanket fort, or whether you prefer the armchair, the choice, is of course, yours…
Winter can be a rather isolating time, when we have to spend a good deal of time close to home…But if there is anything that being a reader teaches you, it’s that, quite often, books can bring you further than any other mode of physical transportation. And not only do these adventures help pass the time, but they have proved psychological and physiological benefits, as well.
As reported by The Guardian, a study at the New School for Social Research in New York, proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships. Moreover, according to some of the study leaders, “Literary fiction lets you go into a new environment and you have to find your own way”–a key tool necessary for anyone wishing to actually explore new cultures and places.
Things have recently got even more exciting, thanks to this TED Talk by Ann Morgan, a book blogger, who challenged herself to read a novel from every country in the world. For those who haven’t experienced a TED talk before, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and is a global conference sponsored by the non-profit Sapling Foundation, with the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading”. TED conferences are currently held around the globe (and have been broadcast via the internet since 2006), with speakers given a maximum of 18 minutes to share their ideas, experiences, inventions, or theories. They are generally fascinating, often innovative, and occasionally feature great literary ideas like this one.
In her talk (which you can read here), Morgan explained that she believed herself to be well-read, but eventually realized that most of the books on her shelf were written by English-speaking authors from English-speaking countries. Thus, her knowledge of the rest of the globe, its authors, and its people, was almost non-existent. Thus, she set herself to read a book from every country on earth (though, admittedly, in translation). Best of all, she made a map for the rest of us, with a book recommendation from each country…which you can check out in full here. Just click on the little map pins for the title and a brief description of the book.
There are some drawbacks to this map…Morgan chose to use the United Nations list of recognized nations, so there are no works, say, or native Hawaiian literature, or a distinction made between various African tribes who travel between nations. Also, some of the books are obvious choices, like Ulysses for Ireland (which is great, but also a rather challenging choice…), but many of these books are lesser-read books by emerging authors, and featuring novel, often contentious themes that really help readers come to grips with the issues at work in the country in question. Check out some of these selections that are currently available through the Library’s NOBLE network for examples, and start planning your armchair adventures today!
The Fortunes of Wangrin by Amadou Hampaté Bâ: This novel was Morgan’s selection for Mali, a country in North-Western Africa. The narrative is set up as the account of a teacher-turned-civil servant named Wangrin, who works in Mali during the first half of the 20th century, when the country was under French rule. Wangrin quickly learns to play his peers and colonial employers off against one another for his own ends, rising to prominence, until his ambition, personal faults, and enemies conspire to bring him low once more. As much as this novel is a personal tale, it’s also a broad story about the evils of colonialism in Africa, and the impossible decisions it forces people to make.
Lucy: A Novel by Jamaica Kincaid: This story focuses on the fortunes of a 19-year-old girl who leaves her home in the Caribbean West Indies to work as an au pair in the USA. Thenovel looks at the rupture that relocation can cause in a life, and provides a fresh, feisty and at times alarming perspective on the land of the free and on British colonialism. Even though Lucy took this job to both escape and renounce the stifling atmosphere of her country and her family, she finds that being a woman in any society places her in a position that she can never fully escape–so all she can do is to explore it. Simple, beautiful, and unforgettable, this book has already been hailed by many as a classic of Caribbean literature.
Montecore : The Silence of the Tiger by Jonas Hassen Khemiri: This selection from Sweden is particularly interesting, as it shows the country through the eyes of a Tunisian immigrant who spends his life trying it adapt to his new home. Told through a series of correspondence between Jonas Khemiri and an old friend, Kadir, the book is a daring, powerful and often hilarious attempt to unfold the story of the struggle of Dads, Jonas’s estranged father, to make a life for himself in Scandinavia after he left Tunisia as a young man.
The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag: This selection from Mongolia draws on Tschinag’s childhood to tell the coming of age story of a young shepherd boy in the Altai Mountains. On the face of it, he and his family are nomads, herding in the same way the Tuvans have for generations; yet, far away in the interior of Mongolia, change is afoot. The influence of the Soviet Union is prompting seismic shifts in social interactions and culture that will change our young hero’s own life, and the life of his people, forever.
Enjoy your adventures, intrepid armchair travelers, and safe journeys to you all!