A Year of Reading the World

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Is what you’re reading what you write? Not entirely, though admittedly it can be a subconscious influence.

The power of reading can’t be denied. So many people have claimed that a certain book has changed their life and turned their views upside down.

If this is so, shouldn’t we all be looking for that particular book? If this is so, isn’t it worth the search?

Exploring the world

Reading foreign authors and other cultures, in different genres and styles, can broaden one’s horizons almost as much as visiting remote places and exploring cultures. The opportunity to find out – to explore – to discover – is only a book away.

reading, world, foreign authors, literature

Photo by Kevin Dooley

Yet sadly, plenty don’t go further than their country’s borders in their individual exploration. This is like never going abroad, but even more tragic you’re not required to leave the comfort of your home to read a book written from another perspective.

As writers, reading world literature is almost a given and digging deep in the vast land of language usage is gratifying: both in personal pleasure and in learning the craft of writing in a unique way – discovering new depths of field.

There’s a story about Mark Twain defending a friend and fellow writer for being accused of copying someone else’s work in her writing. He wrote a letter to her, saying that everyone copies other ideas without really knowing it; that the recognition of an invention usually goes to the person who solves the last piece of the puzzle, even though many have contributed towards getting there for centuries before.

In this context, how can anyone know what has already been done without reaching out there as much as possible?

New Year's Resolution on Reading

In an era of modern interconnectedness and ever-shrinking language barriers with the help of professional translators, there’s no reason not to dive into the accessible treasure trove waiting to be found.

While composing a list of recommendations, I was fortunate enough to run into this blog, which is an initiative for a year of reading the world. This enthusiastic English gal collects book recommendations from each country in the world – in English translation of course – so her list is a perfect resource for anyone intending to devote themselves to a similar quest.

Next year is hastily approaching, and yearly plans are going to be made before crowning the end of this year with family celebrations. Many include reading in their New Year’s resolutions with specific goals, such as a book per week. Perhaps a more diversity-oriented goal for next year will only contribute to an enhanced self-improvement.

Do you read foreign authors? Has that helped in gaining a new understanding?


Write for fifteen minutes about a character in a foreign culture and post your practice in the comments. Try to indulge in your character’s way of living, thinking, surrounding. Think of the character’s fears and dreams that are often determined by society and explore this in a short piece of writing. Don’t forget to support your fellow practitioners.

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

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  1. Karen Norval

    Yusef was our cook and in many ways our caretaker while living in Pakistan in 1977. The missionaries with whom we lived employed many Pakistanis who cared for their homes, but the seven of us highly idealistic college students had a VERY difficult time adjusting to having anyone serve us. So we found ourselves treating Yusef with familiarity and warmth throughout our summer.

    Yusef was Christian in a Pakistan that was slowly beginning to close down for those who were not Islamic. Probably in his late 60s, he had raised his family in a land where he had enjoyed religious freedom and now found haven in the homes of missionaries. I wish I knew if he had always been a cook and something tells me he was well educated beyond his daily tasks of running a household.

    He was a greying man of typical Pakistani coloring and height, with a grandfatherly smile we saw more and more often as our time there continued. It seemed to us that Yusef understood most English words and even a lot of our slang terms and I caught him several times silently shaking with some laughter as he overheard our clumsy conversations. He rarely spoke and when he did it was in low, soft, barely audible words. His stature and walk were meant to be respectful, almost bowing, and I remember wishing he would stand tall with us as he did when alone in his kitchen. He must have overheard me mention the foods I was enjoying, because I suddenly had pita or nan with peanut butter and his plumb jelly on my plate at every single meal. I still think of Yusef every time I ever see a jar of that jelly in a market. When we would nervously taste a new Pakistani dish (remember, back then America barely had McDonald’s, let alone the wealth of ethnic foods now available in local supermarkets!) and then go crazy with delight, he would almost prance with joy, silently clapping his hands and letting his smile cover his entire face.

    As the end of summer approached, Yusef spent more time with me and my fascination with learning the Urdu language. He would walk me through the kitchen and teach me the words, helping me to write them out in English phonetically, letting me know he could read and write my language as well. He brought out pictures of his family but still maintained an air of stillness and privacy when speaking of them to us. As the government began to change, even while we were still there, I wondered what would happen to Yusef should all the Americans be forced to leave at some point. He would not discuss such things, nor would he discuss his beliefs, but several times I saw Yusef and our American host missionary gesturing while speaking lively Urdu at the kitchen table when they thought we were asleep. I could tell they were talking religion and politics with grand smiles and shared trust.

    In today’s world of facebook and tumblr, I would know of Yusef’s life, but in those times I could only say goodbye assuming I would never see him again. I am certain he was aware of our appreciation and of his short time of influence on each of us. I can picture him so clearly, and have such hopes that he lived out his days in freedom in his beautiful and well loved country. Bahut Bahut Shukriya, Yusef!

    • Sophie Novak

      This is great Karen. You’ve portrayed Yusef really well and I could visualize his character quite clearly. I’ve never known anyone from Pakistan, but it does sound authentic, especially with the food and language details.

    • mariannehvest

      What a touching tribute to Yusef. I picture him as I read this. You are good at describing his behavior, his prancing with pleasure when they enjoy the food, and gesturing across the table as he discusses politics. I enjoyed reading this

  2. Jeff Ellis

    Life in Franzia was not what Eger had expected. Where in Lendron the people had been tight lipped and paranoid, everyone in Franzia spoke openly and almost without regard for others’ feelings. In Lendron, Eger had been considered something of a rebel, a kid who talked relentless about the world outside the walls and who always squirmed in his seat during mass. Hear in Franzia, however, he always played the part of the prude.

    The Fire Festival had entered into its last week and while Eger was growing exhausted with the pageantry and energy of the city, the Frenz were becoming more and more flamboyant by the day. On his way to market to fetch Master Ren her medicine, Eger had been stopped by a young woman near his age and asked to dance. He was confused at first, but then he heard the music playing.

    From down the hill arose a lively band of trumpeters and luthiers, drummers and singers, all dressed in warm reds, yellows, and oranges. They were encircled by an animated crowd of townsfolk all singing and dancing together. The woman took Eger by the hand and began to dance with him despite his protests. They rarely danced in Lendron and never in the streets.

    “You are very quick on your feet for a man with the dark hair of the west. You were born not far from here, I think,” the woman said as she twirled, her yellow dress as alive as anything Eger had ever seen.

    “I’m from Lendron originally,” Eger said.

    “Oh? How does it feel to be outside your walls?” She smiled. Her Common was better than most Frenzmens’, but still floated on the airs of the eastern hauteur.

    “I don’t know… It’s certainly not what I expected.”

    “What did you expect was waiting out here?” She had a way of dancing with her entire body, as if the rhythm was a breeze and she a leaf. When she swayed, her long blonde hair seemed to float.

    “I don’t know,” Eger said again.

    The woman kissed him on the cheek, “It is a very wise man who admits to knowing so little.” There was playfulness in her voice, but not enough to suggest she was insulting him. Before he could respond, she pulled away, following the rest of the parade up the street.

    “Where are you going?” Eger asked.

    “Where the music takes me,” she said. “Come! Come dance with us!”

    “I can’t!” he called after her, the tail of the crowd now filling in the gap between them.

    “Such is life in the west, I suppose! Too busy chasing errands when you should be chasing love!” There was an impossible confidence to her voice that made Eger yearn to run after her, but he only watched. Watched as she and the parade danced away from him, taking the music with them.

    He huffed and slid a clammy hand through his hair. It was another hour before he returned to Master Ren, pouring the medicine he had retrieved from the herbalist into a cup of water and setting it beside the woman’s bed.

    “You’re late…” the old master said, sipping gingerly from the cup.

    “I met a girl,” Eger said.

    “We have many of them in Franzia. Best to ignore them.” It was exactly the answer Eger had expected from the old woman.

    “Master, what is the purpose of the Fire Festival? We have no such holiday in the west.”

    Master Ren smiled wiping her lips clean with her sleeve. “The Fire Festival is a celebration of love. We dance with those we wish to welcome into our beds.”

    Eger paled, his eyes widening. “What?”

    “Oh yes, my young apprentice. For a girl to dance with a boy during the Fire Festival is a promise of intimacy.”

    “But… She just left. I mean, she, I could have gone with her, but…”

    “Best not to dwell on these things, Eger. Better to focus on your work. Of which you have plenty while I am still bedridden.” Ren waved the young man away.

    Eger nodded and left the room, closing the door behind him. He sat on a small wooden stool at the tiny workshop’s only table, staring at the many cutting tools that lined the walls of the carpenter’s shop. He rest his chin in one hand and traced a small heart on the table, then pounded his fist down on it.

    “Well, shit…” he muttered.

    • Sophie Novak

      Oh poor Eger, he didn’t get laid. 🙂
      This is an amazing fantasy practice Jeff and besides the good storytelling, I like that you’ve included a modern issue, which is the westerners pursuit of the material, today’s busyness. Is this an excerpt of a short story?

      • Jeff Ellis

        It’s sort of a…I don’t know what it is, haha. I wrote about Eger in one of last week’s practices and I liked his character and his story so I decided to write more of it for this prompt. Thanks for the kind words Sophie, I’m glad you liked this. I’m thinking about doing more with it. We’ll see 🙂

        • Sophie Novak

          Great, I’d like to read more. You should definitely explore options with Eger’s character.

    • mariannehvest

      Good writing Jeff. I love the way you describe things with a good mix of action and visual description and dialogue.

      • Jeff Ellis

        Thanks Marianne! I always try to find a healthy balance between show and tell.

    • Lis

      I could picture everything. This is a story I could definitely get into…fantastic.

      • Jeff Ellis

        Thanks Lis! I’m glad you liked it 🙂

  3. Zoe Beech

    ‘Where have you been?’

    Anat shrugged, walked to the table and sat down.

    ‘Nothing to say, big boy who roams the streets late at night? Nothing to say to your mother?’

    War had taken over Kabul, just a hundred kilometres away, and war was on his mother’s tongue. It curled the words she spoke, changing the words so that she no longer sounded familiar. The reason she hated the war was the same reason her husband couldn’t sleep and Anat’s friends no longer came to visit: Mahamood had left.

    When Mahamood went away, so did the sound in the house. Mahamood would not allow the house to grow quiet – not even for a moment. Silence petrified him. He was always shouting. Shouting at the TV, shouting for food, shouting when he left. And now he was gone, and the walls and everything inside them turned silent.

    The food was piled high on Anat’s plate. Ever since Mahamood left, he was given double. His father ate slowly and Anat didn’t eat at all.

    ‘There was a riot today,’ his mother said to the space above her husband’s turban. Her voice was soft, almost tender. ‘About the woman-‘

    ‘I know,’ he said, close to shouting. ‘I know that.’ And instead of being comforted that some of Mahamoood’s temper had found it’s way back in the house, Anat felt afraid. His father was a temperate man, as volatile as a stone.

    And with that, dinner was even more silent as they slipped deeper and deeper into themselves. Anat stared at his food and wondered when he’d feel hungry again.

    • mariannehvest

      This draws me right in. I like the idea of the silence left because the angry brother is gone and I like the details that show us this family is much like all families but it has a hole in it.

      • Zoe Beech

        Thanks Marianne! I intended it to be more ‘cultural’, but the piece grew legs and had it’s own ideas! 😉

    • Katie Axelson

      I wanted to keep reading, Zoe. Great practice!

      • Zoe Beech

        Yay, that’s a great compliment, thanks Katie!

    • Sophie Novak

      Great story Zoe, way to go. Silence can truly be unpleasant if you’re used to a shouting family, and you show this very well while drawing the characters and the story.

    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks Katie! You’re ready for a challenge right? 🙂

      • Katie Axelson

        Always! I don’t know that I can hit every country in a year BUT I’ll definitely add some new ones to my travels.

        • Sophie Novak

          Me too. It’s not about the achievement, but for the concept.


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