The Sunday Salon: My international library, or lack therof

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Sunday 
Salon.com

This year, I decided to read more international. I don't like it that I have to be so mindful of my reading to make sure I read more diversely - I wish books set in far remote corners of the world were more accessible and also hyped a lot. Hype helps, sometimes. But if I were to blindfold myself and choose a book that came my way, an overwhelming percentage of them would be set in the US or written by US authors. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just that I wish to read more from international authors and if mindfully picking a book is what I should do to make that happen, that's probably what I would do.

This is the way I pictured my goal. I am allowed to read only one book from any country this year. Excluding ARCs (because it's not fair to add them to the equation), audiobooks (because I would prefer "listenability" when it comes to them than any other attribute), and nonfiction titles (because I only read nonfiction if I like the subject). So far during this slow January, I read 2 non-ARCs (technically 3) - Night of Many Dreams set in Hong Kong, and Boxers & Saints set in China.

Knowing that I can read only one book from a country is actually making my book-picking ritual quite fun. And encouraging me to read more from my shelves than the shining newer releases at the library. I don't quite know what I would do when I do come across a book that I desperately want to read now. But I was thinking of having a month in between when I could read anything I wanted to, setting notwithstanding. I'm all about flexibility and making sure I do meet my goals, not get frustrated at the effort.

Unfortunately, I'm beginning to realize that my home library is woefully lacking in diversity - something I am hoping to change over time. Still, my collection should be enough to keep me occupied for a few months, if not longer. I do have a few titles from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Right now, I am in between books. I may not pick a new one until this evening or sometime this week, but I narrowed down to three books to pick from. One of them is Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. Mistry is Canadian but Indian-born. That pretty much qualifies as Indian in my book. I've heard a lot of good things about this book, so I am looking forward to reading it.

The other option I have is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, set in Afghanistan - another remarkable book that's in everyone's favorite lists. And finally, The Legend of Pradeep Mathew by Shehan Karunatilaka, set in Sri Lanka. I got this as an ARC a long time back, long enough for it to lose its ARC badge. I have a feeling I will be reading The Kite Runner though I may follow it up with the other books as well.

25 comments:

Sam_TinyLibrary said...

I love your goal, and A Fine Balance is on the list of books I really want to read in 2014 too.
I just finished The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh, which is set in Burma, and it was very good, if you're after more ideas....

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Wonderful goal! I'm trying to read more diversely this year too, and I've been taking care to get more books by non-white authors when I go to the library. It's nice because it also makes me more mindful of which books by which authors I choose: I keep thinking, Is this worth burning a white-authored book on? Meanwhile I have A LOT of books by non-white authors on my list that I'm excited to read.

Vasilly said...

I love this idea. I've been thinking more about international and translated work lately. It sounds like you're off to a good start. :-)

Ti Reed said...

My book club met to choose our books for the year and there are some books on the list that I would never have reached for on my own. Sometimes it's good to get out of the comfort zone but I really don't like to.

Kim Ukura said...

This is a really fun way to approach the issue of reading more diversely. It sounds like it will make picking books more fun for you! I think hype is an important part of the big picture of reading more international authors and authors of color, at least for me -- I tend to read books that I hear about from other readers, but if we're all hearing about books from the same sources that are overwhelmingly white, it's hard to break out of the circle.


I have The Legend of Pradeep Matthew -- I'm excited to read that one.

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

That's quite a challenge! I'm not sure I'd be able to stick to it. I wish you the best of luck!

Helen Murdoch said...

Great goal for reading diversely! If it gets overwhelming, you could alternate: one US; one non-US. I do enjoy reading books from overseas. I have a few on my blog from 2013 and 2012. It makes me think that I should have a "non-US" tag

iliana said...

Wow, what a project! I love to read books set in different countries but I probably wouldn't be able to stick with this. I used to belong to a book group (for 14 years) where all we read was foreign fiction. It was wonderful. I moved cities otherwise I'd still be with them. I hope you will read A Fine Balance but be prepared. It is wonderful book but I found myself emotionally drained afterwards. Good luck with your challenge and keep us posted!

bellezza said...

I've heard such wonderful things about A Fine Balance, from the most trusted readers, and I even own a copy myself. Not that I've read it yet. For me, The Kite Runner didn't work. It just pissed me off, to be honest, at the cruelty subjected to others. But, I know many people loved it, along with Thousand Splendid Suns. I just can't read anything more by Hosseini even if that means I'm sticking my head in the sand.

Athira / Aths said...

Thank you for that suggestion! I have heard of Ghosh's books and need to give that one a try.

Athira / Aths said...

I wish my library had more non-white authors on their shelves. They have some popular fiction but that's about it. Still, something is better than nothing. And before I whine about my library's choices, let me try to read more diversely.

Athira / Aths said...

Thank you! I love how much more fun it is to choose a read now that I know I have to pick a book from a different country each time.

Athira / Aths said...

I am not much for going outside my comfort zone either, but I generally enjoy reading international authors. I just don't seem to go to them by default and I would love to be able to change that.

Athira / Aths said...

I will have to be more careful about each book I read to make sure I haven't read in that county yet. I didn't realize that Bailey's Prize is the newest name. Wasn't it Women's Prize last year?

Athira / Aths said...

That's how I read mostly too. I tend to go towards a book that has been hyped quite a bit but not too much. It will be a challenge not giving in to that this year.

Athira / Aths said...

Thank you!

Athira / Aths said...

I have both those books here and have to read them sometime!

Athira / Aths said...

You have me hooked now! I am going to pick that right away.

Athira / Aths said...

I'm pretty sure I will come across a book that I have to absolutely read right now. I'm going to have to find a way to deal with that.

Athira / Aths said...

I am quite excited about this project! Maybe it's the January syndrome. When April comes, we'll see how much more I'm excited. Still, if I can do a few months of this, I'll be elated.

Athira / Aths said...

I think I know what you mean. I would be mad too, but I would love to be mad about it after knowing what the book is about, lol. I guess I'll have to give it a try but I have heard a lot of people saying that the book impacted them hugely.

bellezza said...

Once you find out, I promise you you'll never forget it. It's a vision that's (unfortunately) stuck in my head forever.

nomadreader said...

Yes--that was the sponsor-less transition year. I think it's now technically the Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction, but that is looooong. I hope this name sticks for many years to come!

Aarti said...

I've not read A Fine Balance yet, but I am currently listening to Mistry's Family Matters on audiobook and it is beautifully written. I can only assume that A Fine Balance is in the same vein.

That is a truly impressive goal you have set for yourself - even if you don't meet it but you are able to get halfway there, that is still a wonderfully diverse year of reading!

Booksnyc said...

Rohinton Mistry is excellent - I enjoyed A Fine Balance and Family Matters very much. I also really enjoyed the Kite Runner - it stayed with me for a long time.