Read Your Way Around the World

By Lois E. Huffman, Ph.D.

The travel bug bit when I studied in Switzerland as a college sophomore. Long weekends and breaks allowed me to take in the sights of western Europe. Since then I have traveled to many states and more countries.

I love learning about world cultures. Even if time, money, or safety concerns preclude actually going to faraway places, it’s possible to visit via reading. That’s why I was excited to see Book Riot’s Around the World in 80 Books: A Global Reading List. (The featured nations are the most populated ones on the planet.)

Like me, you’re probably familiar with a number of the recommendations—either the book or the movie version:

So many of the titles on the global reading list sound intriguing. Below are some I plan to check out (The descriptions are from Kate Scott who compiled the list.):

Germany – The Quest for Christa T. by Christa Wolf 

One of David Bowie’s top 100 books, The Quest for Christa T. follows two childhood friends from World War II to the Eastern Bloc in the 1960s.”

Japan – Woman on the Other Shore by Mitsuyo Kakuta

A friendship develops between a stay-at-home mother and a single, free-spirited career woman.”

Romania – The Land of Green Plums by Herta Müller  

During Ceaușescu’s dictatorship, a group of young people set out from their province for the city in hopes of a better future.”

South Sudan – God Grew Tired of Us by John Bul Dau

The memoir of a ‘lost boy’ of Sudan who walked one thousand miles from his home country to Ethiopia and back again before making the journey to Kenya and finally emigrating to the United States.”

United Kingdom – White Teeth by Zadie Smith

A suicidal World War II veteran gets a second lease on life when he marries a beautiful but toothless Jamaican woman half his age while his friend and fellow vet, a Muslim Bengali, enters into an arranged marriage with a feisty woman.”

All of these books are from countries where I know people through work with international graduate students, teaching English overseas, or my own travels. Which of the books on the list have you read? Which ones interest you? What books from other nations would you recommend to colleagues? (In my opinion, a must-read book that’s not on the list is A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman. It’s set in Sweden, which happens not to be among the world’s 80 most populated countries.)

While the Book Riot compilation is for adults, there are also armchair travel lists for young people. I especially like the New York Public Library’s listing, Around The World in 80+ Children’s Books. Which of those books have you used in your teaching? Which are available in your school or classroom library?

Are there any books that should be added to that list? One that immediately comes to mind is Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. I learned about it when I was in Oxford, England. My American colleagues and I were told that the book is typically read by Year 7 (Grade 6) students in Britain. (The story is about a young boy who escapes an abusive situation in London when he is evacuated to the English countryside during World War II. There is also a movie based on the book.)

Enjoy your travels! You might even decide to write about them like Ann Morgan did in The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe. Morgan realized she was a “literary xenophobe” so she read the English translation of books from almost 200 countries.

Image Credit:

Globe, Abstract Background from