I was watching the opening to the Winter Olympics in Seoul a few weeks ago, and despite the shame I felt at the aggrandizing of the United States in their ridiculous cowboy gloves, I did manage to open my eyes long enough to notice that there were dozens of countries of which I had very little knowledge – and a few I’d never even heard of. When the announcers would introduce the nation, they would show their location on a map. I had no idea that Andorra was a tiny speck sitting in between France and Spain, for instance, or that San Marino was a similar speck located within Italy. It was more than just tiny countries though. I didn’t know anything about most of the countries in Africa, and my knowledge of where countries in Asia and Europe sat in relation to one another was deplorably inaccurate.
I don’t like having such large gaps in my knowledge base. Does it really matter in a grander sense? Maybe not, though I hope to one day sit behind a podium on Jeopardy!, but in a philosophical sense, it is important to me as a human being on this earth to know more of its history and its people. To that end, I have begun a project to learn the barest facts and locations of every country currently on the planet. I’m not doing any exhaustive research, but simply looking at an almanac and writing down pertinent facts on a note card – what language they speak, what the major religion is, what ethnicity groups there are, and where these places are in the world.
It was during study of the initial few nations that I realized how much I could glean simply by reading a book about Armenia or Yemen or any other place. I learn through fiction and novels, through the experiences of other people in literary form. It’s probably where most of my knowledge comes from. I read extensively already, but my boundaries have been fairly narrow. I like classic literature, fantasy novels, and anything out of Japan.
All that said, alongside my minor studies in nations of the world, I’ve decided to read a book from a native author from each of those countries as well. I am not setting any end-date for this because reading 195 or so books is no small task. It might take me a couple years, but I’ll be blogging about it along the way. I hope to learn something of this globe of ours and of the people walking around on it in that time. I am open to suggestions, particularly when it comes to the less literary countries of the world. I have one great resource in Ann Morgan’s blog, A Year of Reading the World, which I found after deciding to do exactly what she did (though over a longer period of time I suspect), but literature is always growing and evolving and what is out there now is already vastly different from what she may have seen in 2012.
There is no particular order for this reading either, even though I am taking my minor studies in alphabetical order (almost to the Cs!). My first book just happens to be from an Argentinian author, and I’ll be blogging about that later today. It helps to be a librarian when tackling a task like this because you would be surprised how hard it is to find certain books. If I spoke two hundred languages it might be easier, but I’m stuck in English. Maybe that should be my next hurdle.
My list –
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin – Argentina