REVIEW: Around the World in 80 Books

It has been a while since I last posted. Life doesn’t get easier, and somehow between a 9-to-6 and maintaining my habit of reading, I’ve decided that expressing my thoughts and feelings for the craft would have to take the backseat.

While I am juggling around 5 books at the moment, reviews will be slow as I put my work first. Thank you for your patience and I hope this book and review will entertain you.


Around the World in 80 Books
by David Damrosch

get it here

BOOK SUMMARY

A transporting and illuminating voyage around the globe, through classic and modern literary works that are in conversation with one another and with the world around them

Inspired by Jules Verne’s hero Phileas Fogg, David Damrosch, chair of Harvard University’s department of comparative literature and founder of Harvard’s Institute for World Literature, set out to counter a pandemic’s restrictions on travel by exploring eighty exceptional books from around the globe. Following a literary itinerary from London to Venice, Tehran and points beyond, and via authors from Woolf and Dante to Nobel Prize-winners Orhan Pamuk, Wole Soyinka, Mo Yan, and Olga Tokarczuk, he explores how these works have shaped our idea of the world, and the ways in which the world bleeds into literature.

To chart the expansive landscape of world literature today, Damrosch explores how writers live in two very different worlds: the world of their personal experience and the world of books that have enabled great writers to give shape and meaning to their lives. In his literary cartography, Damrosch includes compelling contemporary works as well as perennial classics, hard-bitten crime fiction as well as haunting works of fantasy, and the formative tales that introduce us as children to the world we’re entering. Taken together, these eighty titles offer us fresh perspective on enduring problems, from the social consequences of epidemics to the rising inequality that Thomas More designed Utopia to combat, as well as the patriarchal structures within and against which many of these books’ heroines have to struggle–from the work of Murasaki Shikibu a millennium ago to Margaret Atwood today.

Around the World in 80 Books is a global invitation to look beyond ourselves and our surroundings, and to see our world and its literature in new ways.

BOOK REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A review copy of this book was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I knew from the beginning that it is very likely that I will DNF this book. It’s interesting, but it is definitely a book you’d either take months or years to go through or skip and choose. After all, this book reads like a research paper or a monologue, and borders on reading a literature analysis textbook of some kind. Despite that, I really liked the introduction by the author where he explained how the idea came about, the power of books and how difficult it was to find a great translation of foreign text.

It follows Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, starting in London and making its way across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America and finally America, picking 5 notable books from each region that dates back as old as The Hebrew Bible to more recent My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk.

Let me give you an idea of what this book is about:

From London:
For most of the books here, I see a correlation to London as it was the setting but all I remember was the drama between the writers and that one rather short section of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, of course, I am biased. Most of these books were written around a similar era, as there was beef between writers. Though, I am very interested in reading Mrs Dalloway. The sections were all interrelated, so some parts make me wonder which book was he referring to.

From Paris:
While in Paris, the author named various people who have made Paris their home, specifically across from Rive Gauche had lived James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Senegalese poet and future Prime Minister Léopold Sédar Senghor and many more. It was that line that made me read the chapter with rose-tinted glasses. The thought of living at the same time.

From Krakow:
This chapter opens with the author’s memories of his grandparents who were in Auschwitz. I was surprised that the author would write about his family’s experiences in a book about books around the world. I can’t remember much from this chapter except the concept of The Periodic Table was very interesting to me. How each story was named after an element, which made me very curious, but not enough to want to read the whole book.

I think this book is one of a kind. I’ve heard of challenges where readers try to read a book from each country and readers who actively diversify their readings and try to seek voices apart from their own. This book is great for those who are interested in armchair travelling or expanding their cultural and literary knowledge.

By this time, I am well over 100 pages into this book of 432 pages. I can’t say that I have the interest or the attention to read the author’s description and thoughts about each book, but I do see some that I’d be interested in adding to my ever-growing TBR. As much as I am intrigued and long to read more, an e-book like this takes too much time and patience to read, both of which I don’t have. How others could finish this book from cover to cover remains a mystery to me.

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