Year of International Reading Project

Posted October 1, 2015 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Miscellaneous / 0 Comments


Year of International Reading

I aim to make my 2016 a year of international reading. This is not a challenge to anyone else, but if you want to join in as well I would be more than happy to have you join me!

If I were to describe this past year (so far) then I would most likely call it somehing like “The Year of the Hugos” because so many of the conversations I saw online were about the Hugos in some way or another. I heard so much and got so annoyed at some of what I heard, that I even tallied up all the Hugo nominations to see just how many of those nominations had gone to non-Americans in the history of the awards. (The answer: a quarter of all nominations ever, and most of those are from the UK.)

In the midst of that tally — it’s somewhere around a thousand nominations — I looked at my own TBR pile. I know I read reasonably diversely. As far as I knew, I always had. I didn’t expect to find that the numbers in my TBR pile looked eerily close to the numbers from my tally. I’m not American. I currently live on the European continent and had always, so I thought, read across borders. But somewhere, at some point in my life, I’d stopped. I was shocked. I was certain the state of my TBR pile was just a fluke, a one-off.

So I looked at the other years when I tracked reading statistics. No difference. Despite what I’d thought, despite my attempts to ensure a nice diverse TBR pile to draw from, I was reading predominantly American authors with the occasional foray into British authors. Sure, I was diversifying my book consumption within American borders and everything, but it was all confined to the borders of the United States.

And I was (and am) not happy with that. So, inspired by the Tempest Challenge, #Diversiverse and all the talk about how the Hugos are oh so diverse and this year was such a big win for diversity (YAY! AWESOME! But. Maybe some more thought as to how and why and how we can replicate it instead of just assuming it will?). Anyway, inspired by all of that, I decided that I would challenge myself to read nothing but international fiction in 2016. Sort of.

This is an advance announcement because I’m still looking for book recommendations and there might be people who want to join (and need time to find books they want to read).

So What, Exactly, Is This Year of International Reading?

It is a year in which I commit myself to reading authors from all over the world instead of predominantly from the US. You can join me if you want to! It’ll be fun and we’d be able to cover more books and spread more love for international fiction! Maybe get a snowball effect going? That would be amazing.

For the purposes of this project/challenge, I’m defining “international fiction” as “Stories written by non-American authors and available in English”. If you want to join me, feel free to tweak that definition to suit your own situation and needs.

In the year of international reading, I’m going to deviate from my standard “I only talk about individual books when I like them or have really big problems I can discuss in a constructive manner” rule and talk about anything I read. Even if I didn’t finish the book. Even if I don’t feel like I have a whole lot to say. Maybe not if I hated it so much I have nothing good to say about it at all, I’m undecided.

Lynn, What Exactly Are You Going To Do Then?

From January 1st, 2016 until June 30th, 2016 I will read only books written by non-American authors.

Remember that I said I was only sort of going to read nothing but non-Americans for a year? I don’t actually have the funds to read only new acquisitions for an entire year. Not only that, but a lot of the pushback against challenges and events like the Tempest challenge, #Diversiverse and even the last few Hugo Award outcomes consists predominantly of privileged people who seem to interpret “reading diversely” as “never reading works by authors from X group of people ever again”. There is a lot you can say about that and much of it has already been said, so I’m not going to.

But since I’m afraid I can’t afford to do a whole year anyway, why not use half of the year to demonstrate that “reading diversely” does not have to mean “cutting X out of one’s reading diet forever”? So, from July onwards, I will tentatively be adding American authors back into my reading schedule.

And there is a note attached to that sentence: I will be focusing on minority authors and authors from marginalised groups because my reading choices lean (slightly) in that direction anyway. I’m not looking to change what I read in terms of the kind of stories I enjoy. More on this in a bit!

My goal with the way I’m tackling the Year of International Fiction is twofold: to highlight international authors/books that are otherwise frequently ignored and to prove that reading diversely doesn’t mean saying goodbye to anything. It just means making a bit of room for more books and authors who tell the same kind of stories you like. This is not an either/or situation.

The books I read will be primarily SFF.

I know I already said that and it was probably redundant the first time around, but. Most of my reading is SFF (with a strong leaning towards fantasy) in general and a good chunk of this personal challenge is rooted in the actions and history of the English-language (and predominantly American) SFF community. It makes sense to focus on SFF both as a response to what’s been happening in the English-language community and as a way to prove that reading diversely doesn’t mean changing your reading habits. I can’t do that if I’m suddenly switching over to, say, literary fiction.

That said, in looking for non-American SFF available in English, I found several books in other genres that sounded fascinating. I have added those to my 2016 TBR pile as well. If the mood strikes, I’ll be reading them. I do enjoy reading outside of the SFF genres, but I rarely do it. I always get distracted by the shinies within SFF and push the non-SFF books aside. I’m really looking forward to trying something that will make me put aside the SFF to read something else again and shake things up a bit.

If I don’t want to finish a book, I won’t.

Again, I’ve already said this, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it: I’m not going to force my way through something I hate just because it’s written by an international author. That defeats the point of finding international works I really like.

If you’re curious, this is also why Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem is not in my pile. Everything I’ve read about it suggests that it’s not my kind of book, so, unless friends whose skill at picking books I enjoy is impeccable tell me I’m going to love it, I’m giving it a pass. Sorry!

Short works don’t count.

I’ll consider reading any single narrative that’s 100+ pages according to Kindle’s standard pagination, but I really want to focus on novels. International authors do (somewhat) better in short fiction even if they’re not raking in the awards, but when they’ve written novels those tend to be hard to locate and fairly obscure. Especially if the book has been translated.

This is not going to stop me from reading short works if I come across some that sound interesting (for example The SEA Is Ours anthology that’s currently on IndieGoGo), but they’re easier to find.

This Sounds Like A Great Project, Lynn! What Can I Do?

Well, the most obvious thing you could do is join me, of course, and spend (part of) a year reading non-American authors and talking about the books you’ve read. If you read predominantly books from another nationality, you could redefine my use of ‘international’ to better reflect your situation.

If you’re looking for book ideas, you can check out the responses to my calls for recommendations (here, here) or you can check out the books that are on my pile here to see if there’s anything that sounds intruiging on there. I aim to compile a more comprehensive list of options as well. SFF readers should beware that not all the books on my pile are SFF books, but hopefully you’ll be able to find something that you’ll enjoy!

Other ways in which you can help:

Spread the word!

Talk to your friends about that awesome(-sounding) international novel you found. Discuss authors whose work you’ve liked. Write reviews. You know, everything you’d normally do for an author whose work you’ve enjoyed. Word-of-mouth is incredibly important to any author, but perhaps even more so to international ones who may find it close to impossible to network efficiently within an English-language setting. These are authors that are frequently at the very fringes of their respective fields in this community.

Mention this project to people. Discuss it. Link to the author list (once I have one up). Make your own and share it with the world. Mention similar projects to people. Take on the Tempest Challenge or join #Diversiverse and read intersectionally (and then talk about it).

Give me book recommendations!

I’d like to make a list of all the recommendations I’ve received, so that other people can find them in a single, handy location. I’ve found it pretty hard to find international fiction and even harder to find international SFF. A list like could provide a nice resource to get people started. Right now I’m still trying to decide on the best way to make it. Ideally I’d like a way for others to add to the list as well.

Of course if you’ve reviewed international books, please do share those links too! The more books (and links to reviews) the merrier, I say!

I think that’s about it for the things anyone could join me with. Please do add more suggestions in the comments if you have any ideas! ^_^

There are a couple more things that you could do if you’re an international author or reader. In that case, you could also:

Write about your experiences with international fiction.

I’d love to hear about your experiences. If you’ve got posts written on the subject, send me a link so I can share it. Or contact me about writing a guest post if you’re so inclined. Maybe you’ve got a Storify or a vlog to link to?

Contact me about reviewing your book.

International authors/publishers: if you’d like me to review your (English-language) ebook for this project, please contact me about it! I would love to hear from you. (Yes, I only accept ebooks.)

Books I’ve received in exchange for a review will be prioritised. I will discuss the book honestly and write a separate Book Talk post for it even if I disliked it or didn’t finish it. (Yes, I am absolutely willing to accompany the book with a guest post or an interview.)

Obviously, if you can think of more things, you can do those too.

I’m excited for 2016! I have so many shinies on my TBR pile. Okay, they’re not that many yet, but they feel like a lot. And I’m itching to start reading them. They sound sooooooo gooooooood. Hopefully you’ll join me next year, if only as a lurker, and maybe you’ll discover a new favourite author or book!