Half a year in: My struggles with my Armchair Reading Project

Thursday, July 3, 2014

When I said at the beginning of this year that I want to read only one book from each country, my goal was more to try reading from different countries, get a feel for all these different books, and try to infuse international reading habits into my reading. I did not anticipate that it was going to be so hard finding good books from other countries within easy reach.

Being a mood reader, probably like many of you, I don't feel like reading any book at any time. Sometimes I want my book to make me laugh and sometimes I want it to make me think. Sometimes, I just want it to surprise me, stay away from conventions, and whack my head in a crazy awesome way. But when you go to the library with a set of restrictions, you're already limiting your book pile considerably. That's what happened to me most of the time.

There are certain countries I am already sick of finding recommendations from. And that has nothing to do with the country, just the amount of time I invested in looking for a book, and the lack of potential choices I could come up with. I didn't want to read much war. I didn't want to read deep texts. I also did not want to read a book written by a Western author unless said author was in that country for a considerable amount of time. I was not looking for expat experiences, I was looking for native stories. I wanted to read the kind of book I would pick from a US books pile. Why is that so hard to find?

I most definitely did not want to stop reading diversely. But I certainly did not want to spend a lot of time digging around for books.

Of course, I was doing it all wrong. As with any kind of project, I was adding all kinds of rules to make it more like a project and that was taking a lot of fun out of the picture. It took me a few months of minimal reading to realize that. But when that thought hit, I felt relieved. Relieved that I could read any book I wanted, as long as I was also trying to read more international. Relieved that I didn't have to read only one book from a country. What was I trying to do? Do a One Book Per Country In A Year project or just improve my reading?

So lately, I have been reading a lot more. I have a book going on my tablet/phone, another one at my nightstand, and a third in the car. One of those books is set in Russia, the second in Norway (second time this year), and the third is set in the US (fourth or fifth time this year). And it's cool. There's enough diversity to go on between these books and I'm having fun. Even if I didn't get to enough books, I have plenty added to my TBR.

So far, I've armchair traveled to 11 unique countries with 25 books to go between, and am visiting my 12th country right now. For a full list, check here. This is what my map looks like:




There's a lot of white space in between that is part "I am not finding a book I want to read from this country" and part "I have too many choices to pick from for this country". Also, I haven't read a single book from the South American continent yet.

The first half of this year showed me how difficult it was to find books not set in US. Don't take me wrong - there are plenty of books out there set in many other countries and published in the US, including translated fiction. There are many popular books too set outside the US. I could probably order online any of those books I want to read. I may even find some of them in my local bookstore, and if I didn't find it, they would probably be happy to order it for me. But I don't have an infinite budget. I like buying books but I like borrowing books from the library more. I wish my small town library had a more diverse selection. (To their credit, they do have a fair number of international books, just maybe not enough for me.)

So back to my point - knowing how many precious minutes I have spent, I want to continue making it easy for me.
  1. I'm going to continue being flexible about where I read. 
  2. I'm not going to dig around for books from a certain country just before I try to decide my next read. This = frustration.
  3. I'm going to keep looking for recommendations and acquire some of these books if they are not there at the library. 
  4. And I'm going to do what we always do at work - build a backlog so you never run out of work. Translated to this project - build a TBR so I never run out of books to read. (This is something I stopped doing because I didn't want to plan my reading, but I'm beginning to see the merit of it.)
This post is part of my Armchair Traveler project.

24 comments:

Katherine Koba said...

Even though recommendations may be the last thing you want, I really enjoyed "Your Republic is Calling You" by Kim Young-Ha (South Korean). It's about a North Korean spy who, after years of hearing nothing from the DPRK, suddenly gets the order to liquidate everything and go back. If that doesn't sound interesting to you, Kim's written other books as well:

http://www.amazon.com/Young-ha-Kim/e/B001JOF5MO


"Please Look After Mom" made a HUGE splash in the Korean lit scene and also the English language foreign lit scene, but I could barely slog through it. Shin Kyung-sook has written other novels, though, and maybe those are good.

http://www.amazon.com/Kyung-Sook-Shin/e/B004TBRVI0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1404381537&sr=1-1

(Or maybe you'd like "Please Look After Mom." A family's aging, dementia-suffering matriarch gets lost on the busy subway of Seoul. The novel is from different perspectives of different family members about how they try to find her.)

Athira / Aths said...

Oh no, I hope it did not come out that way, but I am always happy to get recommendations. I just wish I could get my hands on some of them. Thanks for those three recommendations! I have heard of both those books, but I totally forgot about the first one. I remember meaning to read it. I need to bump them up in my TBR so that I read them while I remember them.

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

I think you were right to rethink your goal in this project. It's much better to enjoy what you read while you try to diversify your reading.

Biblioglobal said...

I'm glad you're figuring out and doing what works for you. South America is a sparse region of the map in my reading also. I keep saying I'm going to change that, but I haven't yet!

tanya (52 books or bust) said...

I like what you've done with this project, though I can't believe you haven't conquered Canada yet. Unless, you count The Secret Daughter as Canadian. She's one of those global citizens who many countries claim as their own. Good luck.

Alex (Sleepless Reader) said...

have you heard of http://ayearofreadingtheworld.com/what-on-earth-am-i-doing/? She's done what you're doing and has also found very similar difficulties.

Athira / Aths said...

I haven't conquered Canada yet because I already have the book I'm reading for it, I just need to start it. It's Annabel and I know it's going to be an awesome book, I'm just nervous about starting it!

Athira / Aths said...

I did see her blog and got some awesome choices there. I don't think I could ever do 186 books in a year but she did such a great job!

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

I always have a really hard time finishing any reading projects I embark on. I'm a mood reader too! I just end up rebelling against whatever the project was. This year I set myself the goal of reading one book by an author of color in every five, and that's been fine, since I still have substantial freedom of choice.

Does your little library do interlibrary loans for free, or do they charge you?

Bryan G. Robinson said...

I don't know. It sounds like you're doing pretty darned good to me. Yes, I'm sure it's frustrating but you're reading more diversely than most of us do in a lifetime.

literaryfeline said...

It sounds like you have done really well even despite the challenges you've encountered. I tend to do that too sometimes---finding myself putting too many conditions on a goal I've set for myself, which takes some or all of the fun out of it. I am glad you have relaxed your conditions and are finding it a better experience. And hopefully you will start to have better luck finding some of those books you want to find at your library.

Tanya Patrice said...

I'm doing a similar challenge too, but I didn't see a year limit on it - no time limit anymore. And I added authors from that country as well since I like speculative fiction, so books don't necessarily have to be set in a particular country. This loosens up the challenge a bit.

Tanya Patrice
Girlxoxo.com

Aarti said...

I completely understand your dilemma! I think, as you make a goal to start reading diversely, you realize just how many books by white people there are ;-)


I would second Jenny's question below. Do you have access to inter-library loans in your town library system? Or could you get access to a digital library collection, maybe?

I've also heard of Oyster and I think Scribd, two services that are like Netflix for books - you pay a monthly fee to rent books. That could be cheaper than buying books all the time. Just a few thoughts! But I agree with the other commenters- looks like you are doing very well so far!

bellezza said...

My problem with reading translated literature, in a similar vein, is getting the actual book in my hands. Our library is terrible about having anything that isn't mainstream fiction, and when I read the long list for the IFFP I has to practically buy each of the fifteen books. But even that was hard; stores in England has them, but not stores in the US. Still, I so adore reading books from other cultures. Hence my July: Spanish Lit Month, Paris in July, and the continuation of the Japanese Lit Challenge. So, we will carry on reading what appeals to us, growing our experiences even if only vicariously, and loving each country we come to know better.

Athira / Aths said...

Hehe, I rebel with my read-this-year book lists all the time that I had to stop making them.


Unfortunately, my library does charge for ILL. There's postage charges on top of lending charges, if applicable.

Athira / Aths said...

Aww, thank you! I definitely see more diversity in my books so far this year - I wouldn't mind a little more, I guess, but I am happy with my reading so far.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope so too! BetterWorldBooks.com and PaperBackSwap.com are my two new BFFs - hope they will have what I am looking for.

Athira / Aths said...

Those are great ideas! I prefer challenges to be more fun than work, but at the same time, sticking to the core motivation for the challenge.

Athira / Aths said...

Unfortunately, my library does charge for ILL. There's postage charges on top of lending charges, if applicable. I was hoping to get access to New York's overdrive collection, but they don't accept out of state folks it seems. I guess for now, I'll scrounge through BetterWorldBooks.com and PaperBackSwap.com



I did try Oyster and it's pretty decent. I just found it too expensive for a slow reader like me. Scribd is a little cheaper, I think - I should give that a try.

Athira / Aths said...

I agree with you! Some of these books are just not available in the US and some cost a fortune. So far, I have found some books for cheap, but I am pretty sure I will buy a book if it's one I would really love to read. For now, I'll try to read as diverse as I can and check again 6 months later.

Ti Reed said...

It sounds like an interesting challenge but I know from experience that challenges are not for me. As soon as the rules get in the way of reading, I am over it.

Care said...

I might agree - relaxing the 'rules' on any book project can invite new motivations. Best to you on that. By the way, have you read Mr. Pip? I would recommend that if you want a New Zealand/Papua New Guinea location. It has 'all the feels' and isn't too long. ;)

Athira / Aths said...

That's what I try to change. I like a good challenge and I don't like making it too much of Do-It-As-You-Go type but at the same time, I don't want to many rules around it then the fun is gone too.

Athira / Aths said...

I don't think I have read that book. I'm going to check it out right away. I haven't bookmarked something from New Zealand yet.