Monday, August 14, 2006

On Selecting Books

I’ve had a couple of comments recently asking me how I’m selecting the books I read. I started to reply to one just now, but I discovered I had a lot to explain, so I’m putting it all in a new post.

I started my tour of world literature almost a month ago, and so far, most of the time I wander around my library, or a local second hand bookshop and pick up any authors that sounds as though they might be European. A slightly dubious method, I agree, but it seems to be working out so far. I am trying to steer away from reading authors I have already read, as well as books everyone has read - so, for example, I wouldn't choose Madame Bovary for my French book, because to my mind, it is a little like a tourist hotspot. (Plus I already read it, but you get the idea.) I came across The Three Cornered Hat by browsing in the library, and I chose it above Cervantes as my Spanish read for the above reason, really - I'm out to discover books I've never heard of, new authors, new everything really. Of course, Don Quixote is on my 'to read' list, but not this year.

Another way I find books/authors is searching online, either specifically for, say, Romanian authors (if I am having trouble finding a Romanian author), or for lists like the Nobel Prize winners for literature - see

This year, I'm not out to read every great work of literature I can find; mostly, I want to have fun, read a variety of books from a range of authors, and discover books I otherwise might not have discovered. I do sometimes think that maybe I'm missing out by not aiming for the universally acknowledged greats, but I have the rest of my (hopefully long) life to read everything I want to read.
Having said that, a lot of the time, the books I happen across are examples of the best work from the authors held in highest regard in their own countries and abroad – for example, Jaan Kross’ The Czar’s Madman, or the one I’m reading at the moment by Halldór Laxness, The Fish Can Sing. Both of those were random finds, and I’d never heard of these authors before, even though Laxness won the Nobel Prize in 1955, and Jaan Kross was nominated for it a couple of times. It’s a fine line, I suppose; I also don’t want to waste my time reading utter rubbish! However, I usually go on the assumption that if it someone has gone to the bother of producing an English translation, there must be something about the work to recommend it, although if I don’t like what I see on the back, or don’t like the random page that I read, I won’t take it home.

So there you have it. In future posts, I’ll include a little bit on how I chose any particular book, and on the author – whether they’ve won any notable prizes and such. I don’t really know why I haven’t been doing this – so thanks Litlove and Booklogged, for making me think more about what I’m trying to accomplish on my world literature tour!


litlove said...

Pure chance and the Nobel prize - sounds like perfect criteria for choosing European authors! It seems to have provided you with some very interesting choices so far - bonne continuation!

Dorothy W. said...

I love the project, and I like the random way of finding books -- although not entirely random since you know something about what you want. What a great way to discover new things!

Stefanie said...

Madame Bovary as a tourist hotspot, I love it!

Barry said...

I've read The Fish Can Sing, but I also read Laxness's Independent People: now that truly is an amazing book, one which retains a taste of the old icelandic saga, although it does delve quite deeply into the life of a fairly stubborn old icelandic sheepfarmer. Some might see it as an example of TMI but I loved this book.

BookGirl said...

What a great idea really. I can't wait to see where your book travels take you next.

The Traveller said...

Well...very discerning tourists, obviously!