Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Reading Across Borders Challenge

One of my resolutions for 2007 is to expand my reading horizons by dipping into the literature of countries and regions into which I have rarely ventured and, relatedly, by reading more works in translation. Others in the litblogosphere have expressed similar intentions so I’m proposing a challenge that I’m dubbing the Reading Across Borders Challenge. The precise contours of this challenge must be tailored to the individual participants. But the idea is to determine which countries or regions tend to dominate your reading and to commit to reading a number of books over the course of 2007 which take you beyond those countries or regions. In the last couple of years, my reading has been dominated by books originally written in English by authors from Canada, the U.S., and the UK. For my Reading Across Borders Challenge, I plan to read at least ten books by writers from other parts of the world and to ensure that at least half of those ten books are works translated into English from other languages.

I’m off to a good start, having recently begun reading Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler (Italy), and with Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles (Poland) lined up to read for the next Slaves of Golconda discussion. There are also plenty of other books already on my TBR pile or on my wish list that fit the bill including:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (Nigeria);
The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel (Russia);
Gregoire Bouillier’s The Mystery Guest (France);
Mircea Cartarescu’s Nostalgia (Romania);
Vikram Chandra's, Sacred Games (India);
Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City (China);
Upamanyu Chaterjee’s English, August (India);
Daniel Kehlmann’s Measuring the World (Austria);
Henning Mankell’s The Dogs of Riga (Sweden);
Javier Marias’ Fever and Spear (Spain);
Guillermo Martinez’s, Oxford Murders (Argentina);
Ferenc Molnar’s The Paul Street Boys (Hungary);
Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes (Japan); and,
Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red (Turkey).

I’d be very grateful for other recommendations though. Indeed, many titles on the above list were brought to my attention through enthusiastic mentions by fellow litbloggers.

Let me know if you plan to join me in this challenge and, if so, what shape your Reading Across Borders Challenge will take.

46 comments:

Kaylen said...

I love this idea! I have enjoyed reading outside my culture for the last couple of years. My most recent favorite is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Afghan). I have added some of your titles to my book list and look forward to them!

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

What a great challenge...I really want to join in but I think I have a full plate at the moment. I'll definitely be cheering you on and reading your posts with interest.

kimbofo said...

This is a great idea, Kate. I made a concerted effort to read more books in translation in 2006. If you're looking for some ideas, the full list is here:
http://kimbofo.typepad.com/readingmatters/
books_in_translation/index.html

David Hodges said...

You are off to a great start with Calvino, so, let's follow the thread and recommend Primo Levi's The Periodic Table. My copy is adorned by a recommendation from Calvino, who describes the book as the essential introduction to an essential author. Something like that.

Pete said...

Anything by Halldor Laxness (Independent People, Iceland's Bell, Under the Glacier, etc.) would quite nicely add Iceland to your list.

zia said...

Try Tahar Ben Jelloun. I've only read one of his novels -- they have only been translated from the French fairly recently -- but it was amazing. I have another sitting on my shelf. Click my name for the review.

Pauline said...

This is such a diverse list, it's hard to guess if you'll like Mankell or Bruno Schulz! I think you might like Murakami and Eileen Chang better, but it's only a wild guess... This year I want to reconnect with Asian fiction, I just posted on 3 books I ordered from Japanese and Chinese authors I'd recommend.

Monique said...

I don't know if you noticed this already, but the table of contents for If on a winter's night a traveller ... is a short story itself. I love that book.

Kate said...

Kate, thanks for commenting on my blog! You're the first non-family member to do so! I've been reading your blog for several months now, and I decided to join the lit bloggers in 2007. Keep up the great posts!
Kate

Stefanie said...

Oh, this is good. Must think up a few books

zia said...

Oh yes, and Michel Houellebecq too ...

LK said...

Very nice! I am participating in a parallel universe by focusing my "outside borders" on Middle Eastern fiction. Last year I managed In the Eye of the Sun (very good, a sort of very high-end romance) and am now working my way through My Uncle Napolean, which is very funny (and one I would recommend, even before I've finished it).

LK said...

Oh, and forgive me for forgetting: HAPPY NEW YEAR, KATE!!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I want to do this! Let me come up with a list. . .

SFP, whom blogger refuses to recognize

Dark Orpheus said...

It's a wonderful endeavour to want to read across borders. And it's really cool that so many bloggers are doing it.

Have you check out The Traveller's blog? (Of course you have :p) Similar effort at reading widely across the world. Might give you some ideas and recommendations.

For my own project I'm trying to read a few writers from a particular country. The new country I'm trying to to explore Turkey. My Turkish list:

"My Name Is Red" by Orhan Pamuk
"The Garden of Departed Cats" by Bilge Karasu
"The Gaze" by Elif Shafak
"The Bastard of Istanbul" by Elif Shafak
"Portrait of a Turkish Family" by Irfan Orga

And I'm always interested in reading more Russian authors.

Your selection of Eileen Chang is a VERY GOOD choice. She's a perceptive (and eccentric) writer who wrote in Chinese and English. She's known among Chinese readers but it's a pity so few of her Chinese works have been translated into English. She deserves to be read more. I love NYRB for bring out "Love in a Fallen City."

Meanwhile, i wish you best of luck and lots of fun with your Reading Across Borders Challenge.

meredith said...

Gabriela, Cravo e Canela (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon) by Jorge Amado would be a great way to add Brazil. Not only a gorgeous example of folk lit, the book is also evocative of the particular atmosphere of Bahia where West African, Indigenous and Colonial Portuguese cultures converge into agricultural and beach communities.

Sherry said...

I read The Secret River by Kate Grenville last year and enjoyed/learned from it. Cry, the Beloved Country is one of my favorite books ever, but you've probably already read it. I also read Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset this past year and thoght it was one of the best works of historical fiction I've ever read.

Danielle said...

I love this idea--I would love to join as long as we can be as flexible as we like! I will have to think about who and which countries to choose from--great idea!! I tend to read mostly British, American and Canadian authors.

w said...

Please pick up Susan Sontag's forthcoming collection of essays, At the Same Time, which prints some of her introductions to international literature, such as Halldor Laxness's hilarious and wonderful Under the Glacier (which somebody here has mentioned already).

I would also recommend Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo (Mexico), Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude (Czechoslovaki), W. G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn (Germany), Roberto Bolano's By Night in Chile (Chile), David Albahari's Bait and Snow Man (Serbia), Philippe Claudel's By a Slow River (France), and Pierre Michon's Masters and Servants (France). Happy reading!

Sylvia said...

Do y'all know aboutWords Without Borders?

Krakovianka said...

Your list is impressive already, but if you want something else...I recommend Jostein Gaarder. Sophie's World, if you haven't read it, and if you have--either The Christmas Mystery or The Solitaire Mystery. Both are fairly short and easy to read, but have layers and layers of story-within-story and philosophy.

litlove said...

Another wonderful idea for a challenge, Kate. I'll certainly take part, but will probably do so in a few week's time, when I'm nearly done with the January classics. I'll try and think which French authors I'd also recommend - probably Michel Tournier and Sylvie Germain. But if you haven't read them already, Camus and Beauvoir are well worth a try.

Brad said...

I look forward to participating.
My list is available here.

verbivore said...

This is such a wonderful idea and I'm very excited to take part - I will get a list up in a bit. As for recommendations, I'd love to throw some Swiss authors your way: Durrenmatt for starters, either The Physicist or The Visit. And Robert Walser's Jacob von Gunten is quite good. And Amelie Plume is one of my favorites.

p.s. I enjoy reading your blog!

ragdoll said...

What a lovely title for your challenge: Across the Borders. Funnily enough, I'm doing something totally similar with my reading this year - Around the World in 52 Books. So far, my list is 30 titles long, and we've got similar authors (Ngozi, Mankell, although I'm going to read "Depths," and Pamuk). The hardest part is finding the authors to read in translation, which I didn't think would be a problem...

Restless Reader said...

I am up for the challenge. This is so exciting! I'll post my list on my 2007 reading goals page on Restless Reader. Thanks, Kate!

Sara said...

I have a few foreign books on my to be read list, but I don't have a definite plan for attacking them. I take that back, I do have a plan for reading some of the major Russian works that I'm missing out on, so I guess I'm not all lost!

Karmon said...

You might want to check out the contemporary Russian author Viktor Pelevin. His short story Hermit and Sixfinger is fun.

PiLibrarian said...

Sign me up. Given my profession, I will likely end up with a mix of YA and adult fiction -- there's some good stuff out there for teens.

For Russia, I recommend The Master and Margarita, which I finally read this past summer. Several years ago I was on a contemporary Canadian women kick -- Crow Lake by Mary Larsen, Kit's Law by Donna Morrisey & Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson (first novel by a First Nations woman). Hmm, looks like I should post a list somewhere, doesn't it. Thanks to Amira at The Golden Road to Samarqand for pointing me to the challenge.

Melanie said...

This sounds great. Although I told myself I've signed up to enough challenges already, I can't resist. I always try to read more outside English language lit. so this will help spur me on!

Jodie said...

I'm going to join in with this fabulous idea! I'll put up my list of books for the year at http://snowslices.livejournal.com/ soon.

Wendy said...

What a great idea! I think I will take up this challenge from my current TBR pile (I'm still compiling the list).

I can HIGHLY recommend Half of a Yellow Sun (I wrote a review on my blog if you're interested!).

Your list looks wonderful.

ambar said...

I'll join up too!

Nyssaneala said...

This is a great idea! I always make an effort to read books from other cultures and countries. I think I will work on a list tonight.

You have received a lot of rec's, but I have a few more: The Bone People by Keri Hulme (New Zealand); Life and Times of Michael K (South Africa); Blueback: A Fable for All Ages by Tim Winton (Australia); and I Am A Cat by Soseki Natsume (Japan).

cess said...

I will absolutely participate in this one! I'm a big lover of (female) multiculti books. It's so interesting to read about other cultures and countries and traditions. I am labeling the books on my blog on country this year as well to keep better track of it.
I will think about some suggestions from my own country for you.
Do you have some Canadian suggestions?

sally906 said...

Whoo Hoo - Another challange that I can incorporate my TBR pile with my wish list.

I am joining up too :)

I have one book - will add more to it as I think of them - and can obtain them

3M said...

I had a personal challenge I was going to do called Around the World in 8 Months, concentrating on 8 books with 8 different original languages translated into English. Now I think I'll just incorporate that into your challenge. I may have time to add some more books in translation at some point, but right now here are eight that I'm planning on reading:

Greek - The Birds by Aristophanes-finished
Spanish - Zorro by Isabel Allende
German - The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
French - Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
Portuguese - Veronika Decides to Die by Paolo Coelho
Norwegian - Kristin Lavransdatter by Ingrd Undset
Czech - The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Chinese - Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather by Gao Xingjian

Maria said...

Great challenge! I highly recommend "The Exception" by Danish author Christian Jungersen. Just finished it myself, and it's a brilliant read :-)

jessica said...

Great Challenge Kate.
Would you be up for a tangent challenge? I have a reviewer website, open to anyone who wants, called Books Without Borders. The titles are so similar, and we'd just love more reviews of "beyond the typical."
would you be willing to post a review of the books you read for your personal challenge?
readerswithoutborders.blogspot.com

nessie said...

I am really interested. Can I read them in their original language if I speak them??

Plus when is the start finish for this challenge??? any amazing button coming along>

Am I annoying with all my questions? Am I? ;)

the circumnavigator said...

My friend and I have been travelling virtually via books for a fair few months now. Perhaps you'd care to take a look at our journey so far. You might spot something that you like the sound of.

http://compassjourneypage.blogspot.com/

Nymeth said...

Is it too late to join?

Tasha said...

This is a really good challenge. I'm game. i think I'll start with "My name is Red" by Orhan Pamuk. Now I have to find soem more books...

Nymeth said...

Okay, I am officially in. I posted my list here.

the individual voice said...

I'm so, so late, but so, so eager to be in. Will compile my list this week.

the individual voice said...

I would like to join this challenge, albeit late in the year. I'll have my ten books posted on my blog by this week. Hope that's ok.