Wondering… The Books By Which We Live Our Lives

While not a fan of getting lost, getting lost between the pages of a book is a hobby and a pleasure. Be it an escape from reality or a reality check, books have a way of transporting and engaging us. I’d go as far as to argue that a book needn’t even be that good to have an effect on a reader. If there is one character, one action, one well-written sentence that you connect and engage with, you can find your thinking altered, even if in the slightest of ways.

Good books, the books you enjoy, the books you are challenged  by have more power still. They provoke new types of thinking, inspire, and question each reader in a way unique to that reader. Reading can be an extremely profound experience and each book can have a different effect on each reader depending on the time, context and experience of the one glued to the pages.

I learn from every book I read. From aspiring to be like Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, to imagining what it would be like to live in a Fahrenheit 451 universe, my escape into fiction leaves me with lots of questions about the non-fiction of my day-to-day life. It’s not just the big questions provoked by scholarly staples either. I love a good page turner, featuring a woman of about my age with similar hang ups. When in the right mood (or rather wrong mood) and in need of comfort and inspiration, well-written fiction that could be about you, can be the tonic you need to get on with your life.

Books and literacy are also essential in the strive for understanding and tolerance. I’ve learnt far more about the Middle East from fictional texts than I have from watching the news. Fiction is a great way of exposing ourselves to different perspectives and ideas, to otherness. Thus being mindful of what we read, who it’s written by and why it’s written are key skills for any devoted reader. So how do we decide what to read next?

Recently, I came across a blog entitled A Year of Reading the World in which a reader and writer documents her reading journey as she picks up a book or story from 196 different countries. She shares her list on her blog and has gone into detail about the process in a book entitled Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer.

This idea fascinates me for so many reasons. First of all, the commitment of it is incredibly impressive. Setting such a goal, working against numerous possible barriers (what even counts as a country? How do I get a book translated out of insert any number of rare languages?) and completing that goal must have taken an enormous amount of time and effort.

As an individual achievement, this is well worth celebration. But, I see it more as an act of public service and education. We have books in great supply in the developed world. We can read and read and read and never read all the books that are available to us. We have our favourite authors and genres as well as those stories we’ll never tire of reading again and again. However, how often do we get the chance or have the opportunity to pick up something different, something from outside our usual frames of reference? I read a lot in terms of volume and in terms of depth of challenge and quality, but compared to the wealth of texts humans can produce, my reading is very much a drop in the literary ocean.

So what to do with this wonderful list, described perfectly by one commentator on the blog as a gift? This list and the story behind it is enlightening in of itself. It would take a fair amount of time for me to find some of these countries on a map. So perhaps there’s a starting point – read by your own personal lack of familiarity. You could pick titles out of a hat, find different works by some of the authors listed, or simply work your way down the list if you really wanted to.

Whether I read every book or just one book from this list, the story and the list’s effect can be characterised in the same way one might characterise the importance of reading in general: it is mind expanding, inspiring and thought provoking. It is a list of books reminding us of the depth within literature and the value it brings to society.

For me, this list will stay safely close by as a tool next time I want to know something about a distant part of the world, or  when I need inspiration when browsing book shelves.

I firmly believe in literacy, books and education as the tools and weapons towards a peaceful future. And to fight this war with our printed pages, we need to have more than just one kind of arrow in our quiver.

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