Friday, 18 September 2015

A Year of Reading the Med

I don’t know many live-aboard sailors who are not avid readers.  There is a lot of down-time in the sailing life, from days pinned down by bad weather to simply looking for some meaningful way to spend the hours between dinner and bedtime.  (Or, as many of our early-rising crew members have found, the hours between the time THEY wake up and the time WE wake up, somewhere around the crack of 9 if we have our way...)

From our friends over at The Cynical Sailor and His Salty Sidekick, we were recently introduced to the “Around the World in 80 Books” challenge.  The idea is to read 80 books from different countries, from A to Z.  This all started with UK writer Ann  Morgan and her “A Year of Reading the World” project.   As I am already a fan of armchair travelling, I love the idea and have accepted the challenge (with important modifications). 

I first tallied up my country list based on things I’ve already read.  This exercise pointed out some interesting facts and conundrums for me.  While I’ve covered 29 countries (and every letter except O, Q, W, Y, and Z… there is no X country), I realized that I am woefully ignorant of Spanish and South American literature (excluding Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Paulo Coelho, whom I assume everyone has read anyway, right?).  I also prefer historical fiction that gives a strong sense of place and time, but many of these books are written by outsiders; for example, an English author who writes about Malta, rather than reading something written by a Maltese author.  And then there are the books written by an author from a particular country that have nothing at all to do with the country itself.  Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery isn’t about Italy (the author’s origin) and Prague only plays a minor role in the story.  It’s a fabulous book, but hard to classify in the framework of this game.

Once you start scratching the surface of this challenge and imposing some guidelines on yourself to follow the spirit of the exercise, the task becomes quite daunting.  One of the official guidelines is that you must finish a book you start.  I’m throwing this one straight into the trash heap.  Life’s too short and there are too many great things to read to adhere to this rule.  And besides, it would be too bad to feel like you’ve dismissed the literary merit of a whole country because you didn’t like one book. 

But I’m imposing some other rules, lest you think I’m taking the easy road.  If I read a book about a country written by an outsider, I will also try to read a book written by a native of the country (bravely keeping in mind the aforementioned safety valve of chucking it in the bin if I don’t like it).  While the books don’t have to be historical fiction, it should evoke the place and lifestyle that influence the story.  I’m also not wedded to fiction as there are some fantastic travelogues out there.  Where possible (which is to say, where interesting to me) I will try to read “modern classics” or something on someone’s list of “things you should read if you think you’re well-read”.                  

And lastly, because the world is a big place, I am starting my assault on the Mediterranean countries.  We’ll be sailing down to the Med next year and will spend the next 3? 4? 5? years there.  What better way to inform, plan, dream ?

Depending on who’s doing the counting, there are 23 countries and/or autonomous provinces in the Med (proceeding clockwise):  Gibraltar, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco.  I’m also including a general Med category to include the classic “The Middle Sea” by John Julius Norwich and “The Pillars of Hercules” by Paul Theroux.  Here is my DRAFT list of possible reads, with a CRY FOR SUGGESTIONS from you, dear readers. 

Gibraltar  A Vision of Battlements – Anthony Burgess

Spain  2666 – Roberto Bolano; The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon;  A Heart So White or The Infatuations – Javier Marias;  HELP !!  Missing Mediterranean setting / ocean theme.  Balearic islands?

France  Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan ; Granite Island: A Portrait of Corsica – Dorothy Carrington ; Patrick Modiano (Prix Nobel 2014) – Rue des boutiques obscures (set in Rome) … good excuse to read the latest Nobel winner from my adopted home country…

Monaco  Loser takes all – Graham Greene

Italy  Ocean Sea - Alessandro Baricco;  If on a winter’s night a traveller… -  Italo Calvino

Malta  Ironfire – David Ball  HELP !  Need Maltese Writer or Travelogue !

Slovenia  Cette nuit je l’ai vu - Drago Jancar  (Prix Medici)

Croatia  The Ministry of Pain - Dubravka Ugresic;  Our man in Iraq – Robert Perisic

Bosnia Herzegovina  The Lazarus Project – Aleksandar Hemon

Montenegro  The Coming – Andrej Nikolaidis

Albania  Chronicle in Stone  or  Broken April – Ismail Kadare

Greece   Birds without Wings and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres (Covers Greece and Turkey);  Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantzakis (set in Greece and Crete); Eleni – Nicolas Gage

Turkey  The Time Regulation Institute – Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar;  Istanbul - Orhan Pamuk

Cyprus  Gregory and other award-winning stories – Panos Ioannides

Syria   Damascus Nights – Rafik Schami

Lebanon  An Unnecessary Woman – Rabih Alameddine

Israel  From Beirut to Jerusalem – Thomas Friedman;  A Pigeon and a Boy – Meir Shalev

Palestine  Mornings in Jenin – Susan Abulhawa; I Shall Not Hate – Izzeldin Abuelaish

Egypt  The Map of Love – Ahdaf Soueif (Booker Prize Finalist); Cairo Trilogy – Naguib Mahfouz (Nobel Prize); Beer in the Snooker Club – Waguih Ghali

Libya  In the Country of Men – Hisham Matar

Tunisia  L’Immoraliste – Andre Gide; Return to Dar Al-Basha – Nasr;  Les Trois Graces – Attia

Algeria  Ce que le jour doit a la nuit – Khadra ;  The Rabbi’s Cat – Sfar (GREAT movie !)

Morocco  Au Pays – Tahar Ben Jalloun ; The Spider’s House and The Sheltering Sky -  Paul Bowles; La Nuit Sacrée / L’enfant de sable - Tahar Ben Jalloun

Mediterranean  The Middle Sea – John Julius Norwich;  The Pillars of Hercules – Paul Theroux

Happy reading, and send in those suggestions !

Update 1 here.


Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

Impressive rules and an impressive list! You're inspiring me to try to read a book in French. It will have to be a simple one and of course I'll have my French-English dictionary at the ready, but I may just give it a go!

Unknown said...

Great list! Let me know which ones you enjoy. Im about to buy myself a kindle and start reducing the books on my bookshelf in an attempt to downsize. So I'm keen to get some new books downloaded to have ready to go. I'm a big non-fiction fan, but have just recently re-read '

Unknown said...

Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier. It starts off in Monte Carlo - and has a slight sailing connection too. It's a brilliant book if you haven't read it.