Reading More Worldly-Wide…

Is the expression world-widely or worldly-wide or just world-wide? The Beard and I have been debating that since yesterday evening. Anyway, tangent aside, one of the things which my recent discussion about ‘Am I Literary Enough…’ has brought up for me (and thank you all for your replies I will catch up with commenting back later)  is that not reading the classics is fine the other was that I am not sure I read enough fiction from all over the world – and I would really like to. Fear not, I am not going to write an essay about it as it is just fact, I am going to ask you all if you will help me with this though…

I do love an old map with monsters on it…

I would love it if you could take the time to answer me, in the comments below, the following questions…

  • Which country do you reside in and/or were you born in, and what are seen as the greatest modern and classic novels of that/those countries literary history?
  • What is your favourite underrated/under the radar novel from that country?
  • What country or countries, other than your own, do you most enjoy reading about and which have been your favourite books from that country?

This all might seem a little bananas and it might not give me a list of books from every country in the world, however I am hoping it lines up some wonderful suggestions for a more ‘worldly-wide’ or indeed ‘worldly-wise’ reading for me next year. I am also doing my list of ‘forty books to read before I am forty’ so some of them may end up on that too. I look forward to your book thoughts on these three questions (which I have noticed actually make up about five or six questions, sorry). Thanks in advance.

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28 responses to “Reading More Worldly-Wide…

  1. I guess the novels of Tim Winton are going to be up there amongst the best modern novels of (Western) Australia, but my favourite novel with a WA setting is one I read at school: The Merry-go-round in the Sea by Randolph Stow. If I exclude books from the UK, my favourites from elsewhere are the Clochemerle books by Gabriel Chevallier, and everything I’ve read by Alberto Moravia.

  2. Carol

    Hi Simon

    Strangely I feel as though I know you through the Manchester book club, even though I only started going after you’d taken your sabbatical!

    As an Irish born person now living in England there are probably too many fine writers from both places for me to mention.

    However a recommendation for anyone who wants to read about ‘the real’ Northern Ireland is Robert McLiam Wilson’s gutsy novel Eureka Street: the reviews on Amazon don’t lie – this is a really moving, funny and authentic insight into the state of our nation. I re read it every so often and don’t tire of it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eureka-Street-Robert-McLiam-Wilson/dp/0749396725

    Other than that, as a big crime fiction fan I can recommend the Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indridason and the Brazilian writer Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza: both write gripping, intelligent plot driven novels which are a treat to get stuck into.

    Hope to make your acquaintance in real life soon!

  3. I live in Wales.
    We’ve produced many literary greats. Like.. er… Dylan Thomas and… er… umm.. err…

    ….

  4. I’m not a big fan of Sri Lankan English literature, but perhaps you should give Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew a try.

    It won the Gratiaen Prize (It is kinda like the SL version of Man Booker. It was founded after Ondaatje won the Man Booker, so maybe that’s why!) and also the Commonwealth Book Prize. :-D

  5. rosario001

    I live in Liverpool, but I’m originally from Uruguay, which unfortunately means some of these might not have been translated at all!

    I can’t think of any Uruguayan novels that would be considered classics. The two classic authors that come to mind wrote epic poems (Juan Zorrilla de San Martin, who wrote La Leyenda Patria: The Patriot Legend and Tabare) and essays (Jose Enrique Rodo, who wrote Ariel and Motivos de Proteo: The Motives of Proteus). I guess Horacio Quiroga might count, since he wrote in the very early 20th century. He wrote some very good (and some quite scary) short stories. Cuentos de Amor, de Locura y de Muerte (Stories of Love, Madness, and Death) is probably his best-known collection.

    The greatest modern novel is probably debatable, but I’d go for Juan Carlos Onetti’s El Astillero (The Shipyard). Benedetti’s La Tregua (The Truce) might also be a candidate, and I loved his collection of short stories called Montevideanos. The most influential, however, is probably Eduardo Galeano, who wrote The Open Veins of Latin America.

    Underrated… well, she’s not underrated in Uruguay, but I think the poetry of Juana de Ibarburu doesn’t get the attention it deserves elsewhere.

    As for your third question, I’ve always been fascinated by the Scandinavian countries. I got hold of a copy of Roseanna,by Maj Sjowell and Per Wahloo when I was in secondary school (almost 20 years ago!) and I loved it. I was really happy to see Scandi crime become really popular!

  6. I live in the US, but I am first generation North American. My parents are from Latin America.

    The US has too many book and they don’t interest me too much. I don’t know many Latin American works, unfortunately.

    I don’t prefer any country, but I did start an International Book Group.
    Click here for the books we are reading. I didn’t enjoy some of them but I did like most of them. Since you are in the UK, you can ignore those books on the list:

    http://booksandotherstuff.blogspot.com/2010/12/books-international-fiction-book-club.html

  7. Well, since the US is so big, I’ll focus on New England, where I was born and raised. But I’d love to hear other recommendations for Southern lit, the West, etc).

    Modern: The World According to Garp by John Irving. Irving is the contemporary NE author par excellence, although Stephen King is also very influenced by NE as well—but I’ve never read him (!). Most people list A Prayer for Owen Meany as their favorite Irving, but I think you’d like this one best.

    Classic: The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. Puritans, adultery, scandal, what’s not to like? I read this because it was assigned in high school, but I actually really liked it. In fact, I might reread it now that I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale. They are great companion pieces.

    Underrated: Two tales, both based on the authors’ time in Bennington, Vermont.

    1) The Secret History by Donna Tartt. A delicious murder mystery involving a group of Classics students at a fictional stand-in for artsy Bennington College. So, also good for your mum!

    2) We Have Always Lived in a Castle by Shirley Jackson. There’s something very Gillespie and I about these two sisters in their old house. Bonus, it’s quite short!

    Finally, since I’m a dual citizen, and my mother’s family is still all in France, I’ll recommend one underrated author from the French canon that I think you’d love: Théophile Gautier. Think of him as the French Edgar Allen Poe. His classic novel is Mademoiselle de Maupin about a love triangle based on a real-life cross-dressing opera singer, but I really like his short stories, which are often based on something supernatural, usually involving Ancient Rome or Egypt.

  8. I live in Sri Lanka but visit Australia at least three times a year for over a month at a time as my children live there so am very comfortable in Melbourne. Recently there has been quite a a number of Sri Lankan authors emerging in the field of English literature notably Michael Ondaatje, Roma Tearne, Romesh Gunasekera, Ru Freeman, and one of my favourites has been Shehan Karunatilleke and the very humorous Carl Muller.

    I enjoy reading novels set in the English countryside and preferably those with a vicar involved! Joanna Trollope and Susan Howatch come to mind. I also like Renaissance Italy and my top favourite there is Sarah Dunant.

  9. drharrietd

    I’ll try to answer your main questions later — meanwhile, it’s GOT to be world-widely!

  10. Until very recently I haven’t tried to expand my tastes in literature and have tended to read books that interest me at random. But, to answer the questions in your survey..

    I’m Indian and to be very honest, I think we Indians make better poets than novelists. I think Rabindranath Tagore (His book ‘Gitanjali’ is my namesake!) and Sarojini Naidu’s writing very beautiful.

    Arundhati Roy is also very well known, although I find her style slightly disturbing even though she is very informative. R.K. Narayan is another well known writer whose stories are pretty amusing. Then there’s Anita Desai whom I haven’t read as yet although we have her books sitting on our shelves for years (I plan on reading her soon). Also, Ruskin Bond is very popular, although, again, I don’t find his writing style very appealing either.

    These questions are really good! Until I began trying to answer your questions I didn’t realize a lot. For one, I don’t enjoy writing that is sprinkled with local slang. If it’s about another country, I like it to be from an objective point of view without the author trying to teach me the local usage of that language. That’s why I don’t like Chetan Bhagat. And I would advise you NOT to read any of his books, unless you’re curious to know how some of us think in the vernacular and speak in it’s immediate translation!

  11. Blimey talk about challenging questions!

    Born and brought up in Scotland, now living in England and I consider myself British. I’ll limit myself to a few novels I’ve read for Q1 rather than all those that might reasonably be “seen as” the greatest:

    Middlemarch, On the Black Hill, The Alexandria Quartet, Gormenghast trilogy, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

    Underrated novel (how do I know which are underrated?) is Crome Yellow

    Other countries; I think this is an easier one!
    France: almost anything written by Colette, if forced to chose then “The Cat” or “Ripening Seed”
    Japan: almost anything written by Murakami, two choices here too “Norwegian Wood” & “Kafka on the Shore”

  12. I live in France, but was born in New Zealand, my favourite French classic is Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ without a doubt.

    In New Zealand, apart from Katherine Mansfield’s short stories which have international acclaim, I think Janet Frame is probably one of the most noted classic writers, and also known thanks to the film An Angel at my Table Jane Campion made based on her three autobiographies To the Is-Land (1982), An Angel at My Table (1984), and The Envoy from Mirror City (1984).

    Personally, I absolutely loved Michael King’s biography ‘Wrestling With the Angel’ which is a stunning and compelling narration of the life story of this talented author whose creative life could be said to have been saved by the winning of a literary prize for her collection of short stories The Lagoon which halted a scheduled labotomy.

    For contemporary NZ fiction, my absolute favourite is James George’s ‘Hummingbird’. Stunning.

  13. You may live to regret this question, as I am originally Romanian but grew up in Austria and am now living on the Franco-Swiss border. So let me give you some personal favourites from each of these countries. Mind you, I am not sure how easy they are to find in translation.

    1) Austria: Stefan Zweig has some wonderful novellas (Beware of Pity, Chess, Confusion of Feelings, The Post-Office Girl are the translated titles) – he used to hugely popular worldwide in the 1920s and 1930s, wrote many screenplays, but is now largely forgotten. Of course, Kafka may be considered Austrian at a pinch – Prague was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire back then, and he did write in German.

    2) Romania: Ion Luca Caragiale is a splendid playwright, short story writer, humorist, satirist from the 19th century – he best describes Romanian society at that time (unflinchingly) – but I don’t think he has been much translated into English – and I can see why. It must be quite hard to translate that humour. In fact, there is very little translation of Romanian literature into English – more into French and German. You could try Filip Florian’s ‘Little Fingers’, which I think has been published by Harcourt, or his ‘Baiut Alley Lads’ (written together with his brother Matei), University of Plymouth Press. You can find a review of it on the blog ‘A Year of Reading the World’.

    3) France: I’m a huge Simenon fan – not just the Maigret novels, but his so-called ‘romans durs’: ‘The Long Exile’ and ‘Striptease’, for instance.
    And the very noir fiction of Pascal Garnier is just starting to be made available to an English-speaking audience: ‘The Panda Theory’ made me shiver.

    4) Switzerland: Not a hugely original choice, perhaps, but worth a read: Max Frisch: either ‘Homo Faber’ or ‘Bluebeard’ – good stories, but also quite profound meditations on the 20th century and Swiss smugness.

  14. AJReads

    Loving this post Simon! Really ties in with what we were both chatting about last week. Definitely going to have a think about those questions too. Although I think it just might add to both my guilt and inevitably my TBR count! :)

    I’ve also just added a blog post over at AJ Reads that looks at a similar issue. You have taken a geographical approach, whereas my post has looked more historically at what books we might be missing out on due to changes in the English language itself, and ‘how far back do we tend to go?’

  15. Pingback: AJ Reads – Reading from the Past: What about Old & Middle English? (Part I)

  16. I thought I’d chime in for my favorite Spanish regional authors whose works are translated from their minority languages.

    from Galicia (Galego, my native): Manuel Rivas and Camilo José Cela are probably the easiest to find but I don’t particularly like Cela personally (he won a Nobel prize though). María Teresa Moure Pereiro (Teresa Moure), María Xesús Pato Díaz (Chus Pato), Wenceslao Fernández Flórez, and Ramón María del Valle-Inclán y de la Peña are sadly much more under the radar.

    from Asturias (Bablé): Adolfo Camilo Díaz is perhaps the best known but Pablo Antón Marín Estrada and Xandru Fernández are great too.

    Rosario Ustáriz Borra writes in aragonés.

    From Extremadura (Estremeñu): Dulce Chacón and Javier Cercas both write moving literature and Felipe Trigo’s non-erotic work is good too

    from Basque Country (Euskara): Bernardo Atxaga is the easiest found of course and Marie Darrieussecq (from the French side) is also popular. Mari Jose Olaziregi, Arantxa Iturbe, Xabier Momtoia, Arantxa Urretabizkaia Bejarano, and Txillardegi are also good reading

    and finally from Catalonia and related (Catalá): Ana María Moix, Maria Antonia Olíver, Mercé Rodoreda and Esther Tusquets are my favorites

  17. Louise Trolle

    Well I’m Danish, born, raised and still here :-9

    I’ll try to stick to stuff I know has been translated into English.
    (question 2 is hard to answer relevantly, as the book is only available in Danish)

    The greatest modern Danish, translated writing, is probably something by the philosopher Sören Kierkegaard.

    Hans Christian Andersen obviously, apart from the famous fairy tales he’s done travel descriptions etc.

    Karen Blixen / Isak Dinesen (her pen name, so people wouldn’t know she was a woman)
    I’d recommend Winter’s Tales, Seven Gothic Tales or Babette’s Feast

    More recent there’s Peter Høeg ; Smilla’s Sense of Snow
    Lene Kaaberbøl : The Boy in the Suitcase
    Ib Michael: Prince

    I like reading classical French literature (in Danish or English!), I think Moliere was a genius, I like Rabelais and Voltaire.

    The Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder I like, he’s written Sophie’s World, The Orange Girl and Through a Glass, Darkly .

    I like Salman Rushdie’s books (guess he’s British Indian) – particularly Haroun and the Sea of Stories and The Enchantress of Florence.

    The British/Australian/American authors I like, well I don’t consider their origins very much, but I love the work of A.S. Byatt, Paul Auster, Jasper Fforde and Neil Gaiman. (American Gods, yay!)

    • Louise Trolle

      Oh! And I love Haruki Murakami and Oscar Wilde’s books :-)
      I think Amelie Nothomb is a bit overlooked, I loved her quirky magical realism book, Tokyo Fiancee

  18. Sherry

    I live in Canada and would love some suggestions for Canadian books which are not bleak and depressing. .

  19. Sarah Williams

    This is a terrific question! I wish I wasn’t so tired tonight so I could really, really think about it. I live in the northern U.S. . It would be so easy to mention, and rightly so, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but I keep coming back to Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. E.B. White wrote such a lovely classic in Charlotte, but he was also a tremendous essayist. Eudora Welty was a favorite of mine. She did such a great job of writing about the Delta.
    I love lots of older literature ( and lots of current literature, too) from your part of the globe, but I also love the magical realism of the Latin American writers do so well.

  20. I was born in Hungary, still live there. One of our greatest 20th century classic authors is Dezso Kosztolanyi – some of his works are available in English as far as I know (Skylark for example), he is worth checking out.
    A “lesser” classic is Antal Szerb – his novel Journey by Moonlight is a beautiful book about all kinds of deeply existential themes.
    From more recent times I would mention the works of Adam Bodor – his novels are written in an eerily beautiful language, and they feature a unique brand of magical realism combined with a distinctly Eastern European/Hungarian/Transylvanian feel – this combination gives me the creeps.

    I actually prefer reading books from and about other countries than my own. My main interests are American and English fiction. My favourite American novels are Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. As for English fiction, my favourites are Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers and E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.

  21. Hi Simon! I live in Canada but was born in the Philippines. There are many Canadian authors worth reading but a few authors that I like who I don’t see on your sidebar are Alice Munro, Miriam Toews, Rohinton Mistry, and Michael Ondaatje. Of course you’ve read plenty of Margaret Atwood, and you’ve read Yann Martel. One of the foremost Canadian authors I have yet to read is Robertson Davies. I have copies of his books because I find them everywhere but waiting for the right time to read him.

    As for the Philippines, I suggest starting with our most famous Noli Me Tangere and its sequel El Filibusterismo by José Rizal. There are a few translations but my favourite’s by Soledad Lacson-Locsin. I’m not sure how easy it is to secure copies though. If you’re having difficulties, message me and I’ll find a way to get them to you. :D There’s an easier one to secure, and available at the Book Depository, a more contemporary one, Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco, a winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize. I haven’t read that one, but soon!

  22. Cool! I’m French, my most favorite book is this one: http://wordsandpeace.com/2012/01/13/i-love-france-13-review-1-2012-le-grand-meaulnes/.
    do you know there’s a Goodreads reading challenge: Around the world in 52 books, meaning: in 52 countries. here is the link, you don’t need to be a member to access it: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/53809-a-2012-challenge-around-the-world-in-52-books
    scroll down to personal lists, you can see lots of titles per country.

    you can also see my own lists here on this public google doc:

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AqZIzZFqfnNxdDU2cDE3SHRydmtlY1E4UElzend4MFE

    column A shoes you all the books I have read/plan to read this year/country.

    there’s another blogger reading a book for all the countries represented at the Olympic Games! here is her list:

    http://ayearofreadingtheworld.com/thelist/

  23. From new Zealand. It’s a children’s book, and a little old now, but Maurice Gee’s Under The Mountain is a classic, sci-fi / fantasy. His Halfmen of O series is great too, but is set in a secondary world.

  24. Hi!
    From Croatia, born, raised and still living there. Greatest modern novel: Ivana Simić Bodrožić “Hotel Zagorje” (translated so far in German, as far as I know); Classic novel: Miroslav Krleža”Return of Filip Latinowitz” (I think this one is translated in English)

    What is your favourite underrated/under the radar novel from that country?
    My favorite under the radar novel from Croatia is novel that is still not translated in English, so no use in mentioning it. But, this partially answer your 3rd question one of my favorte books from author from Bosnia and Herzegovia is book by Meša Selimović “Fortress” (translated to English Northwestern University Press, ISBN 0-8101-1713-4).
    Enjoy

  25. Thank you all SOOOOOO SOOOOOO SOOOO much for your thoughts and reactions to this one. I need to go away and work out how I am going to use all these suggestions and follow the post up. But I will I promise.

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