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Topic: Reading Globally

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Subject: Reading Globally
Date Posted: 11/7/2009 8:54 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
Posts: 1,427
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Back in the 1980s, in a new university English course, I was introduced to Nadine Gordimer and Margaret Atwood, among other writers in the English language who were NOT (white) Brits or Americans.  In that class, we read  Africans Nadine Gordimer, Ali Mazrui, Buchi Emecheta, Chinua Achebe, and Australians Thomas Keneally and Patrick White, New Zealander Keri Hulme, and Canadians Robertson Davies, Margaret Lawrence, and Margaret  Atwood.  I wore out a pair of reading glasses in that class alone!

It was the beginning of the university's attempt at a WIDER look at and appreciation of English literature.   Other subsequent classes in "post-colonial lit", introduced students to the works of such writers as Indians Anita Desai, R. K. Narayan, V. S. Naipaul, Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, Israeli Amos Oz, and Palestinian Anton Shamass, and I forget who all else.  (Oh yes...Kazuo Ishiguro, the Japanese-Brit, was one.)

I suppose that, in a certain sense, we Americans can be charged with being "provincial" in our choice of reading material.  It seems so infrequent that someone such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Salman Rushdie can capture the attention of an American reader.   Someone please tell me I'm wrong about my feeling that, literarily speaking, we Americans are pretty darned provincial . . . .

Last Edited on: 11/9/09 5:55 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 11/8/2009 9:22 AM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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Isn't everyone?  I don't have a widespread scientific sampling but the people I know who grew up in Japan said they read almost exclusively Japanese authors.  And it may not be common but there are non-Anglo/American authors that make it big stateside, like Stieg Larrson's Girl series or authors like Khaled Hosseini who set their books in non-Anglo/American settings.  But I think in general people read what's most readily accessible to them, and in America it's American authors.

Date Posted: 11/8/2009 11:58 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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I was thinking along the same lines as Vanessa. I attended an international school for my master's degree and I found that most of us read authors from our home countries. PBS has been great at helping me expand my horizons and I read many foreign (to me) authors now.

I think I would have read more international authors if I had been exposed to them as a high schooler. The only international author I remember reading was Chinua Achebe and the teacher did such a poor job of helping us understand some of the nuances of the novel that I did not pursue it. Also, I grew up in a small town so I was very limited in my reading selection - back them american authors were about the only thing that found their way to the aisles of Wal-Mart. Today, people have a much broader selection of authors via the internet and even Wal-Mart!

I will have to take a look at what my oldest DD (age 13) is reading - she gravitates toward authors like Meg Cabot but loves historical fiction. She has read a lot about emigration and I know she read a book by a Norwegian author lately. My son, age 10, is reading a book set is Africa right now but it is written by an American.

Date Posted: 11/8/2009 4:27 PM ET
Member Since: 12/22/2008
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Here is a link to a challenge usually held annually, specifically for reading fiction from other countries.  It has really inspired me to seek fiction set in other countries.


Date Posted: 11/8/2009 4:42 PM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
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I agree wholeheartedly with both Bonnie and Vanessa. (sure are some heavyweights in Bonnie's list, Margaret Atwood excepted). And I would ask Bonnie what she thinks of the more famous S. African female, Doris Lessing? And if you are strong enough to handle Achebe, try the one the Africans simply call Ngugi (Petals of Blood, Weep Not, Child, A Grain of Wheat)

Date Posted: 11/8/2009 6:27 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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Ah, John . . . .you found one of my Achilles' heels.   I haven't read Doris Lessing yet......sigh.   But I have a firm intention of reading her The Golden Notebook.   John, when I went to college it was like going to a trade school.  The time I spent in J-school (journalism) was so crammed with required and/or strongly recommended courses designed to turn the student into a pretty good newspaperperson that there was next to no room for a 'luxury' such as a literature course.  Also, I might explain to you that this was all quite a long while ago, when the curriculum in English departments was still organized into English or American, prose or poetry, and of which century.  One of the two "holes" I found over the two years was "English Romantic Period", and the other was "Twentieth Century American Novels".  That's it.  After that, probably almost everyone in this Forum knows how full Life can get when one is working, raising a family, and trying to help in one's community.  I feel like the 'slow' student who is still trying to catch up to where the others have already arrived!  I'm very glad I took two quarters of that "World Lit" course in the late 80s.  After I got my husband to read Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz, he was so impressed with the fine story-telling that he went right on to finish the Cairo Trilogy.   My spouse is a retired physicist, and right at the moment I'm reading an updated edition of The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra, so I feel as though I'll be catching up (sort of) to 1999 !  I heard that when Kate Hepburn retired, she told an interviewer that "There are 20,000 books I want to read."   John, I don't think she made it, and I know I won't either, being already an octogenarian.  . . . .NEVERTHELESS . . . .

Date Posted: 11/9/2009 2:20 PM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
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And I would ask Bonnie what she thinks of the more famous S. African female, Doris Lessing?

I'm mixed on Doris Lessing, but I would like to point out that she is not South African.  She's British - born in Persia (now Iran), then moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with her family.  She's lived most of her life in the UK.

Date Posted: 11/9/2009 3:07 PM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2005
Posts: 5,091
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I find Rushdie's work awe inspiring, discomforting, challenging (in a good way) and overpowering.

Generally, I've gotten the feeling that there's a sort of awakening to India born authors in America.  I'm seeing a lot of books by Indian authors, and some by Americans set in India, in the bookstores these days.  I don't know why it is, and I could be mistaken, but it seems to have flourished quite suddenly.

I enjoy most of Lessing's works, though she sometimes gets to be a little too heavy handed for my tastes.

Date Posted: 11/10/2009 12:16 PM ET
Member Since: 9/14/2009
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I have been making a concerted effort for the past couple years or so to read globally. I did it for a number of reasons. First, I have devoured all but the most obscure 19th century English literature and needed a change. Secondly, I have an intense curiousity about other cultures and their styles of self expression, Thirdly, I can't afford to travel...so I do it through literature. Also, not only does reading allow global travel, but it lets you travel through space and time!

I try to shift my reading continually from one country to another; and, I shift time periods as well. It keeps things fresh and exciting.  Of course, I always try to balance my reading between fiction and nonfiction as well.  I find I really enjoy finding literature from countries with their own peculiar point of view, e.g., Iceland or Russia. I can't put my finger on what separates them; however, I could easily pick them out from a line-up if I didn't know the particular author. Fascinating.