First up – I am not really into reading challenges. I am not a particularly fast reader and I am more into quality than quantity.
So why a reading challenge? Well, I have been reading more and more since setting up the Expat Book Club. I have always tried to read widely, but it’s easy to get stuck in a rut – or just default to the type of books you know you’ll enjoy.
While I am not the kind of reader who will battle on with a book I dislike, equally I like to read books that I find a challenge. You know, the ones that really make you think. Not all the time, granted, but some books are the equivalent of going to the opera while others are like watching a trashy movie. Both can be appreciated, but you have to be in the right mood.
I also think that one of the joys of reading is that it can give us an understanding of different places, different people, different periods. So, as an Expat, reading about where you are living and getting immersed in writers from that country can really help understand the culture.
So, here are some thoughts on a reading framework and some of the books I am likely to be reading this year…will you be joining me?
1. A book set in the country you are currently living
Reading is a brilliant way to gain insights into the country you are living in. There are SO many books set in France that I am a bit spoiled for choice…so I am going to start with two books that I already have.
Paris Echo, Sebastian Faulks
What a lovely coincidence that Sebastian Faulk’s most recent novel is set in Paris!
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
Now I’ll be honest and say it’s years since I read any Hemingway. But this classic, set in Paris, is one of those books I have always meant to read.
2. A book in translation
Most of us already read plenty of books in translation (in fact, there are several on this list) so for this I am going to go for a book in translation recommended by someone who is from that country. Because often we only hear about the ‘big’ books that are translated into English.
On the Expat Book Club we have been sharing recommendations for books from different countries all over the word which has introduced me to many writers I hadn’t known about.
The Kites, Romain Gary
So the book I will be reading is The Kites by Romain Gary, which was only translated into English from French and comes highly recommended from a French friend. Gary, the only novelist to have won the Prix Goncourt twice, was also a pilot, resistance hero and a diplomat. The Kites is a story about the resistance, but about the endurance of love. I can’t wait to get started on it!
Claudine in Paris, Colette
My other personal challenge will be to read a book in French, and I’m starting with Colette. I was lucky enough to be loaned two beautiful copies by (another) French friend…so I need to get started so I can return them! Great timing too as the film Colette, starring Keira Knightley, has been released recently.
3. A non-fiction book about a topic that fascinates you
Les Parisiennes, Anna Seba
I am fascinated by the first and second world wars, and especially by womens’ stories during these periods. This book, by historian Anna Seba, tells the stories of the Parisian women who ‘lived, loved and died’ during the period of the Second World War and the Nazi occupation.
4. A biography, auto-biography or memoir
Alive, Alive Oh!: And Other Things That Matter, Diana Athill
Diana Athill was a legendary publisher, memoirist and novelist who died earlier this year, aged 101. She said of herself that there can’t be many other centurions still living by their pen; it’s our luck that she was able to.
As The NY Times put it, this book is ‘…an invitation to sit a spell with an intractable and witty friend who’s pushed even further into what the poet May Sarton termed the “foreign country of old age.”
5. A prize winner
Milkman, Anna Burns
Milkman won the Booker prize in 2018 amidst some controversy, with the head of the judges panel referring to it as ‘challenging’. It has, however, made it onto the bestseller list – something that not many Booker winners achieve.
This begs the question to me – why do we read? Of course there are times we want to slip between the covers and feel comfortable and entertained. But surely the point of reading is that we also need to be challenged? To have our own ideas and preconceptions tested? That when reading requires some hard work, some effort, the pay off can be that much greater?
Anyway, spoiler: I have read the first few chapters. It is different, like nothing I have read before, but it’s certainly very readable. And very funny too.
6. A random find
Because you like the cover, or because you finally stumble on a shop that sells books in English and you HAVE to buy something
Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson
7. A classic
In Search of Lost Time Volume 1: The Way by Swann’s, Marcel Proust
8. A book that has been on your list for years…
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Now, Anna Karenina is one of my all-time favourite books, but I have never got on with (read: never finished) War and Peace. But this December marks 150 years since it’s publication, which I think is a good reason for giving it another go! And it also gives me most of the year to finish it…
So, over to you…
Will you join this reading challenge? What would your choices be?
I’d love to hear from you!