My Life

More personal ramblings.

My Read the World Project? Completed it!

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.

Merry Christmas!

Happy Christmas to all who celebrate it and, even if you don’t, I hope you have a lovely day doing exactly what you would like to do.

My Christmas is always very chilled out, especially as it’s just me and my mum. We tend to spend the day watching a load of films and eating a load of food and it’s wonderful.

I shall leave you with my favourite Christmas-related Vines. (RIP Vine)

The Books and Life Tag

As it’s blogmas and I need to think of things to fill each day I of course turn to tags. The Books and Life tag was created by Steve Donoghue on YouTube and I was inspired to do it after seeing RinceyReads’ video. It’s all about reading habits and where and how books fit into your life.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a normal person and 10 being the late Harold Bloom, how much are books and reading a part of your life?
This honestly fluctuates. I’ll always say I’m a reader and have been since I was a kid but the amount of time I dedicate to reading can change each month or year. Like this year will be the least amount of books I’ve read in years as I just haven’t felt the need to read like I have before. So, I’d say for now I’m about a 4. I still read more than the average person but I’m never up to date about new releases or what books coming out I’m super excited about.

Where does your personal library stand right now in relation to the rest of your life? Do you have more books now than you ever have? Fewer? How has your library changed?
I definitely have fewer books compared a few years ago. I unhauled boxes of books earlier this year, partly due to space and partly due to admitting that some of the books I had I was no longer interested in and would never read. My personal library is probably a 70/30 split on books I’ve yet to read and favourites that I’ll probably never get rid of. I think nowadays it takes me a lot to keep a book after I’ve read it if I didn’t love it. If I have no desire to read it again and just thought it was fine, I’d rather it go to a new home where someone else can maybe enjoy it.

Take a mental step back and ask yourself: what is the most likely first bookish impression a newcomer would have in your home?
I rent a room in a flat so the many living space is pretty sparse in terms of either of our personalities. In my bedroom I have a little TBR organiser that fits about 4-6 books in depending on how big they are. They’re the only books on show, the rest of my books (which is the majority of my TBR) is on shelves in my wardrobe as I don’t have a bookcase here. My favourite books are at my mum’s where they are on display on bookcases in the living room.

How often (if ever, gulp) do you clean or re-organize your books?
I sometimes dust the tops of the books in my TBR organiser but I very rarely clean or reorganise the books in my wardrobe. They’re all stacked on top of one another so unless I want to read a book that’s in the middle or near the bottom of a stack, they don’t move.

On average, how many books do you acquire in a given week?
This ebbs and flows to be honest. Some weeks or months I can buy like six books at once, especially if I go into a bookshop to buy a book for someone else. I can then very rarely resist buying some for myself at the same time. But equally I can also go weeks or months without acquiring a single book. So on average it’d probably work out to be one a week.

What song is your current ear-worm?
I’m so bad at keeping up with music but That’s What I Want by Lil Nas X is super catchy and I very much enjoy it every time it comes on the radio when I’m driving.

What percentage of your self-control do you retain in a well-stocked bookshop?
Accidentally kind of answered this in question before but I really lack self-control in bookshops. I can probably keep about 30% of my self-control when I’m in one. Especially if I see a buy on get one half price deal on a book I wanted, it’d be rude not to get another book and take advantage of that deal!

Do you ever feel the need to take a break from books? If so, what form does it take?
This year it’s definitely been TV shows that have taken up my reading time. Before that, films were definitely what I watched the most. If anything, recently it’s been reading that’s been the break from other things. I would like to change that in 2022 and have a more even split across my hobbies.

When you meet a new person, how long does it take you to bring up books?
A while if I’m honest. I’m more likely to try and bond over favourite films than favourite books. Part of that is because my reading is so varied it’s hard to think of a book that’s a good chance to be able to bond over. Also, I seem to instantly forget every book I’ve ever read when people ask me about them.

Have you given any thought/made any provisions for your personal library after you croak?
Not really. I suppose I’d like it if friends/family went through my books and took soe they thought they might like but really as long as they weren’t dumped anywhere and were instead donated to a charity shop or a library, I’d be happy.

Are you known among your friends & loved ones for your weird and probably unhealthy relationship with books?
Well, they definitely know I like books and it’s probably one of those things that is used to describe me. My friends and family definitely know that they can always give me a book as a birthday/Christmas present and I’d love it. I love seeing what books people might think I’d like.

Merry Christmas!

It’s a weird one this year to say the least, but I hope you are all safe and have a lovely day, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, and no matter what you’re doing or who you’re with (or without).

It’s just me and my mum this year so we’re going to figure out what time we need to turn the oven on etc and then sit down and watch some films.

My TBR: 2020 Edition

It has been a long time since I’ve done this, almost five years in fact. I last shared all the physical books on my TBR in January 2016, the time before that was April 2014 – so really this is long overdue. Please don’t go and compare my TBR now to my TBR in 2016 or 2014 as I’m sure there’s going to be books here that were on my previous TBR’s and that’s just embarrassing.

This time I’m going to share the physical and digital books, whether that’s on audio or my kindle, I have in my possession. I have to say earlier this year I did go through my bookshelves and unhauled over twenty books so this TBR could’ve been worse! Though I’ve also had my birthday since then and was gifted more books, so it probably evens out.

Before I start I just wanted to flag I’ve currently got a giveaway of boxes of bookish stuff happening on my Twitter, it closes on 22 November so check it out if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

This list is split into four sections; audiobooks, books I have with me in my flat, kindle books, and books that are at my mum’s place. I do not have room for all my books, so my mum is kind enough for me to keep the majority with her. Every now and then I take the books I’ve read but want to keep to hers and then pick up more books I’ve yet to read to bring back with me.

Any books with an asterisk * symbol are books for my Read the World Project.

Audio:
I do get audiobooks from my library, either via RBdigital or BorrowBox, but these three are via Audible as I do sometimes get a subscription/extra tokens if there’s a good deal on and then stock up there.
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell* – I’m currently reading this
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (more…)

Happy Halloween!

And so, another October comes to an end and it’s time for spooky things to happen – though probably a lot of people have already gone full out on the spooky stuff.

I’m probably not going to do anything for Halloween, maybe watch Hocus Pocus because it’d be weird not to (it’s kinda become a tradition to watch it on/close to Halloween) and chill out. I was never a big Halloween person even before we were living through a pandemic where gathering in large groups is a no no.

Anyway, however you decide to mark Halloween I hope you have a great day/night, and if you’re not doing anything – hope you generally have a fab weekend!

REVIEW: Don’t Take Me Home (2017)

Documentary about the Welsh international football team’s rise through the FIFA World Rankings, and their first international tournament for 58 years when they got to the Euro’s in France in 2016.

I’m half English, half Welsh, with my dad being Welsh. I was staying with him in Spain during a lot of the 2016 Euros, and have fond memories watching Wales’ matches (and also Iceland’s) because they were the underdogs and it was the first time Wales had been in a major international tournament for decades. Perhaps it’s because of those memories, and thoughts of my dad who died three months ago, that made me decide to watch Don’t Take Me Home, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Rather than being a comprehensive history of Welsh international football, Don’t Take Me Home focusses on how coach Chris Coleman took these players who were grieving for their former coach and were 117th in the rankings, to the Euros and making a far bigger impact than just about anyone could imagine.

The focus is on Euros 2016 and follows the team through the Group Stages and beyond. It’s a talking heads type documentary with players and staff commenting on their thoughts and feelings before, during and after games. The footage of the games is interspersed with players commentary, and the matches are just as thrilling as when I watched them four years ago. Don’t Take Me Home also gives an insight into the players mentality and how they gel together, on and off the pitch. It really shows how this group of players are friends and that while naturally they trained hard and talked tactics during the tournament, they still could wind down and have fun.

One thing Don’t Take Me Home showed really well was the passion of the Welsh fans and how the teams’ success and drive made such an impact. Wales is a small country, one of the smallest in the tournament, and now it’s a country that other people have heard of. As I said, my dad was Welsh. He lived in Spain for eighteen years, and for so long the locals down the pub (my dad did learn Spanish) would presume he was English which naturally annoyed him a lot. It wasn’t until Gareth Bale started playing for Real Madrid that he had a point of reference for the Spanish (“Soy Galés como Gareth Bale”) and watching the matches down his local, with Wales doing better than Spain that year, made them take notice.

The footage showing the Welsh fans, both in France following the team around the country, and the ones back home in Wales in fan parks and down their local pubs, is just great. Their joy is infectious and Don’t Take Me Home is filled with a lot of feel good moments.

While Don’t Take Me Home will certainly strike a chord with Welsh fans, I think anyone who is a fan of football and underdogs will enjoy this insight into a team that achieved great things. 4/5.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

I hope you are all having a wonderful day, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, and you’re having fun, and doing what you hoped to be doing at Christmas.

Christmas is a very chilled out affair for me as I’ve got such a small family so Christmas day, and the whole Christmas break really, is just an excuse to chill out, eat a lot of food, watch films and read books.

Thoughts on… Reading Slumps

I like routines especially when it comes to my blog. On Monday’s I post a film review and on Thursday’s I post a book review and if there’s something else I want to write about it’ll go live on any other day – that’s how I’ve done it for years now. I’m pretty consistent when it comes to that “schedule” but it’s tough to keep up with it when you’re in a reading slump.

I’ve read two books this month and I’m currently in the middle of two more; The Dry by Jane Harper on audio and I’m reading a physical copy of Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi. It’s not unusual for me to be reading one book on audio and another in physical format at the same time, but what is unusual is that it’s two and a half weeks since I started the physical book and it’s less than 300 pages long.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a reading slump.

I think this one has been brought about by life being a bit more busy than usual. I’ve started a new job, I did a movie marathon for charity, and I have family-related things I’m perhaps I’m subconsciously worrying about. I say subconsciously as I’m very much a person who doesn’t think they get stressed, until my body gives up in some shape or form and I realise I wasn’t feeling that great. Time to read and being in the right headspace to read is definitely the main factor. And while I do find the premise of Frankenstein in Baghdad interesting and I like how it has a large cast of characters, I never feel compelled to pick it up even though when I am reading it, I enjoy it. It’s a weird situation to be in.

This long weekend I plan to either finish Frankenstein in Baghdad or consciously put it aside and pick up something else. I can always go back to Frankenstein in Baghdad when I’m more in the mood for it. Because that’s something I’ve learnt about myself over the many years I’ve been reading – I am a mood reader.

That’s why my TBR’s are often pointless as I might read one or two books from them but the rest of that week/month/whatever I’ll read completely different things. With my Read the World Project I do think I put pressure on myself to read certain books and quickly. The plan with that project was to read a book from every country in the world before I turn 30 which is in less than two and a half years now and I have about 100 countries still left to read. While I enjoy reading books from different people in different places, and I’ve certainly found some favourites that I would never have heard of if it wasn’t for this challenge, there’s sometimes an underlying sense of guilt if I’m reading books that don’t fit for the challenge.

I think really for me, reading slumps are something that happens when I’m drained, can’t focus on the physical act of reading, and can’t find a book that suits my mood. To get myself out of reading slumps I tend to go to graphic novels as they are so much shorter and quicker to read than a novel. If I read a couple of graphic novels, I feel like I’ve achieved something and can then attempt to read a novel next.

I’m still learning to tell myself that putting aside a book to try it again at a later date, or just admitting that it’s not for me and DNF-ing it, is absolutely fine. I haven’t “wasted time” on that book and it’s totally OK to just have a break from reading if my mind is not up to it – blogging schedule be damned!

I hope this all makes sense. I was trying to write through how my feelings on reading and how that relates to blogging. I also have a clearer idea of how I’m going to think about my current read, my reading slump, and what kind of book(s) I want to read next. Have you ever had a reading slump? And if you have, how have you gotten yourself out of it? It’s always good to hear other people’s tips and tricks.

The London Bookshop Crawl 2019

This time last week the London Bookshop Crawl was in full swing. It’s an event that lasted from Friday 8th – Sunday 10th February but I only took part on Saturday. There were guided tours, special events, book swaps and over 80 bookshops across London taking part. The London Bookshop Crawl is like a pub crawl except with books which is awesome!

I’m an old hat at this London Bookshop Crawl thing and it’s amazing to see how much this event has grown over the past four years. I decided to get a ticket for the guided bookshop crawl around the King’s Cross area as I’m a big fan of the guided groups. It’s a great way to meet people, and it is fun discovering new bookshops with people, comparing purchases and generally being a bad influence on each other.

We met at the British Library which I hadn’t been to since I was at university and there was our first stop of the crawl – the British Library Bookshop. There I bought Crimson by Nivaq Korneliussen which is a coming of age story that was on my radar before the bookshop crawl which is always a bonus. The reason I was aware of this book was because it’s set in Greenland and by an author who’s from Greenland so it’s perfect for my Read the World Project.

Next, we went to the Blackwell’s Bookshop in the Welcome Library. There I bought Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and Other Lies, a non-fiction book that’s all about what feminism means to different women. This is another book that was previously on my radar (SPOILER ALERT! I think I did pretty well at buying books that I previously wanted/was aware of) I think I’ll definitely be going back there again as it was a great book and gift shop and I heard that the actual library itself was pretty amazing too, so it’d be nice to explore that properly.

We went to second-hand bookstore Judd Books next which was a really very well stocked second-hand bookstore, with pretty much all the books being in great condition and a wide choice of genres. There I bought The War Correspondent by Greg McLaughlin, which isn’t for me but is actually going to be a birthday present for my dad. It’s his birthday next month so I’m well impressed with myself being so organised.

Then we went to Gay’s the Word which was practically next door to Judd Books. There I got Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann which is a YA story about an asexual black main character. This is another one which has been on my wishlist for a while and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the next book I pick up. Gay’s the Word is one of only two specifically LGBT+ bookstores in the UK and it sells both queer fiction and non-fiction. It had a really friendly atmosphere and the books it had in stock were a great mix of genres.

The penultimate stop on the London Bookshop Crawl for me was Housmans which is a radical bookshop selling new and secondhand books from a whole range of genres including progressive politics, and where I got two books! I bought Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena, which was on my wishlist, and African Titanics by Abu Bakr Khaal, which wasn’t on my wishlist but they are both reasonable short and both are for my Read the World Project. I really liked Housmans and will be going back there again as it’s just around the corner from King’s Cross station and that’s the station I go to and from London.

My final stop was Word on the Water which is such a lovely little second-hand bookshop on a barge on the river. The guys who run the place are great and there’s always something cool to find there.

I was restrained and didn’t buy anything from Word on the Water, so I finished my 2019 bookshop crawl with six books, five for me and one as a gift which wasn’t too bad if I do say so myself. I’ve generally become better at buying books that I’m already interested in or am sure I will pick and read sooner rather than later. I’m still trying to get that TBR down!

I had a great time on the London Bookshop Crawl. I got to meet up with twitter pals and people I’d met on previous bookshop crawls and everyone in our little group were friendly and chatty and they were a great bunch of people to spend a few hours in bookshops with. Out of the six bookshops I visited, I’d only been to one before which was Word on the Water, so it was great to discover new bookshops that I’d never noticed before.

I have to say thanks once again to the amazing Bex who organises the whole bookshop crawl in her spare time. She’s absolutely brilliant and I can’t wait to see what she puts together next year for the fifth anniversary of the London Bookshop Crawl! There’s likely to be mini bookshop crawls in a city or two around the UK in the summer so if you’re interested make sure you follow them on Twitter to keep up to date with everything and check out the Bookshop Crawl website. Oh and it’s always fun to check out the #LondonBookshopCrawl on Twitter to see other peoples purchases and adventures over the weekend. Until next year!