I knew it was going to be a bit of challenge to read one book from every country in the world. Between now and the grave, I only have a limited number of hours to set aside for reading.
What I didn't expect was the roadblock I hit on day one of the challenge when I tried to count up how many books I'd have to read.
What is a country?
Depends who you ask. There are 193 members in the UN. But that leaves out countries like Taiwan and Palestine, and they publish some good books in both those places.
The CIA book of knowledge lists 267 "world entities," which gives them plenty of choices of things to overthrow, topple or otherwise depose. However, it includes places like the uninhabited Palmyra Atoll, now wholly owned by the Nature Conservancy.
205 countries participated in the 2012 London Olympics. Maybe that's a nice in-between compromise?
What about countries I've visited that don't exist any longer? I once spent a day in East Berlin, in the
now-defunct Deutsche Demokratische Republik, where I bought a Russian-English disarmament dictionary.
For now, I've decided to start with the countries everyone agrees is a country. There are plenty of those, and I can sort out the more esoteric places later.
Should keep me busy for a while.
How long would it take to read one book from every country in the world? Is it even possible? I'm going to find out the answer.
I love to travel and I love to read. A couple of weeks ago I made a list of all the countries I've been to. If I count all the countries where I've even spent a few hours layover, it comes to about 45.
Which sounds like a lot, right?
Think again. There are 193 member states in the UN, which means if I use that count (more on this later) I still have something like 150 more countries to go. Even if I were to travel to two new countries every year, I won't see them all before I die. Which of course got me into the double-helix downward spiral of brooding about my own mortality AND the how little of the world I'm going to see.
But as readers know, books can take you anywhere.
There's another thing too. Jane Smiley has written that "Reading fiction is and always was practice in empathy - learning to see the world through often quite alien perspectives, learning to understand how other people’s points of view reflect their experiences."
In today's troubled world, empathy and understanding are in far too short supply. So I decided to travel climb aboard a book and travel.
Book one on the #worldreads challenge was Sarmada by Syrian author Fadi Azzam.
I've had the good fortune to visit Syria. It's a beautiful country of wonderful people. My heart breaks for the people living through the civil war there. One day again there will be peace.
In the meantime, I'll recommend Sarmada as a book that will give you an opportunity to explore the unexpected diversity of village life and a transition to the modern world, leavened with a touch of magical realism.