Way back in January 2017, I decided I was going to try and read a book from every country in the world before my 30th birthday in September 2021, giving me just under five years. To begin with I wasn’t sure if I was going to go with authors from every country or just having the book set in each country be enough. I soon went with the authors from that country approach though as I thought that while it was likely to be more challenging, it would allow me to experience a more authentic take on a country and its people, culture and history.
I didn’t meet my self-imposed target of reading a book from every country in the world before I was 30. This was due to a combination of things over the years I was doing this challenge. There were times I was in reading slumps, or when I wasn’t prioritising the international books, or when I couldn’t find certain ones, or just how generally a lot of the books for this challenge were non-fiction or historical fiction and those kinds of books don’t tend to be ones that I read very quickly.
After failing at my original deadline with 48 books/countries still to go, I decided to tweak things a bit so I had till my 31st birthday to read a book from every country in the world as then I’d at least still have completed the challenge in my 30th year. And with my 31st birthday tomorrow I’m very pleased to say that on 17th September 2022 I read the final book for my Read the World Project! Part of me was kind of annoyed that I didn’t stick to my original goal but a lot of things happened over the years I’ve been reading books from around the world – I moved to a new city, got new jobs, there was a global pandemic, I experienced the loss of three close family members, including my dad, in the space of three weeks in March 2020. It’s no wonder that reading of any kind got pushed to the back burner at times.
I have read books from 205 different countries! Technically there are 195 countries in the world but I did things like split the UK into England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and read books by authors from places like Taiwan, Palestine and Kosovo which often has their autonomy disputed. I read short stories, novels, poetry, essays, non-fiction, plays, children’s stories – just about every type of literature you can imagine to complete this challenge. I also read physical books, ebooks, and audiobooks during this challenge as there were some books that were only available digitally or were a lot cheaper than a physical copy. It was fascinating discovering authors and books that I never would’ve heard of or read if it wasn’t for this challenge.
No offence to any of the books I read but there’s some I have very little memory of as I read them like four years ago. Part of me would be interested in rereading some of the books from the early part of this challenge to see if my opinions changed at all now I’ve read more widely and have experienced so many different writing styles.
I’d say I read a lot of things out of my comfort zone but to be honest I’m not sure what my comfort zone is anymore. Because such a huge chunk of my reading for the past five years has been focused on my Read the World Project, and often there wasn’t a lot of choice when it came to what I read for a country as there might only be a few books translated into English, I’ve read what I had to, not necessarily what I was interested in. I grew up a fantasy fan and I’ve read the odd fantasy book over the past few years but I’m not sure if that is still my favourite genre. I’ve acquired a lot of books over the years from browsing Waterstones or from the times I’ve been subscribed to things like Illumicrate or FairyLoot and I’ve read very few of them even if at the time I got them they sounded super interesting.
It’s going to be a bit weird but also exciting to have total freedom with my reading choices again. The times I went on holiday I would always take a mixture of “fun books” aka not for my Read the World Project and books for my Read the World Project as I never felt like I could completely stop reading books from around the world as I didn’t want to fall behind or get out of the habit of reading them.
I want to mention a few websites that really helped me find books and writers for my Read the World Project. I’m not the first person to embark on this reading journey and I’ll surely not be the last but finding others who had blogged about their experience of reading a book from every country in the world helped me a lot when I was stumped on a country.
While it was sometimes really hard to find certain books because they were old or out of print or ridiculously expensive, looking over those websites gave me options and helped me feel confident that I would find some sort of literature from each country somehow. Taking full advantage of the University of Cambridge’s library sure helped (I work in a University department so automatically get library access) especially with some of the smaller countries, and I’m lucky enough to have the disposable income to do things like pay to have the one copy of a book I found on AbeBooks to be shipped from Texas to the UK – it was The Golden Horse and cost $56. Thankfully this was before the British Pound tanked in value so it worked out to cost about £42.
I’m really pleased and proud to have read a book from every country in the world. I learnt a lot from so many of the books I read. Even the fiction books as when a book is written by someone who has lived that culture or experience, that authenticity shines through. It was an interesting but sometimes difficult challenge and I’m looking forward to revisiting some of the authors I read for my Read the World Project in the future.
I’ve put together a master post for my Read the World Project so anyone who’s interested in a specific country can easily find the work I read for it.