A hard frost had formed unexpectedly overnight when I got hold of The Living Mountain at Braemar Mountain Sports before we left on 22 December. I had no other motivation than, finally, to read this puzzling, beautiful document of intimacy with ‘the mountain’ to which I had returned over the preceding days, sleeping in snow, tramping straight into the winter sun, becoming absorbed into the form of the land … It wasn’t until later that I realized that the book could also be the beginning of a project whose seed was sown in a conversation I had with my friend Steffen Hope last year. That project is to read a book from every country in the world.
The idea is not a new one, but there is so much to think about when actually doing it that anyone can make it their own. That is one reason why I am in two minds in categorizing this post as ‘academic’. Yes, it does relate to professional interests such as World Literature; but I also want it to cover a diversity of texts rather than just following trampled thematic paths such as globalization, colonialism, and what not. Similarly, I am not approaching the undertaking with a predefined frame of reference as one might expect in a scholarly context. I reckon that prose writing will be the most common, followed by poetry and then, perhaps, drama – but I might surprise myself.
There is also the thorny question of how one understands ‘country’ (raised, you will note, already by this very first book). Do places such as Catalonia and Tibet merit their own read? Does Ancient Greece get separate treatment from modern Greece? What does one do with Native American literature(s)? Rather than try to fix answers to such questions from the outset, I am going to see how the project evolves – what gets my attention, whether a pattern starts to develop – and come back as and when to ponder ‘country’ or whatever alternative term might present itself.
The only fixed criterion is that each book must be one I have not read before. There is no need for them to be classics, though they can be. Perhaps I will go through phases of focusing on particular areas; perhaps I will also pinball back and forth across the globe. I may well take the opportunity to read some works that I have long wanted to; but I will also pick up ones that have been on shelves and in boxes for too long; and I will let myself be surprised by chance as well, as with this beginning.
I’ll put the books in here as we go…