I am embarking on a journey to read at least one book written by an author from each country in the world. Below is a list that shows my current progress.
France – A Philosophy of Walking – By Frederic Gros – Translated by John Howe – Illustrated by Clifford Harper – Verso Press: London, New York, 2015. A beautiful book on the joys of walking. It describes some of the great walkers in history, including Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Rousseau, Thoreau, Nerval, Kant, and Gandhi. They walked to think, to experience, to feel joy, to escape the demands of social pressures, and to revive themselves in nature.
Also from France – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – By Jules Verne – Barnes & Noble 2002.
Japan – The Sound of the Mountain – By Yasunari Kawabata – Vintage International, 1970. The Sound of the Mountain is Kawabata’s greatest writing. Its imagery is poetic, describing even the simplest of scenes–like a tree or a branch of leave–in words that allow acute visualization. The depth of feeling in this novel is raw and rich, as Shingo (the main character) attempts to navigate the aging process. True to Kawabata’s form, he does not hold back when describing the messiness of everyday life. But this is mixed with Shingo’s growing appreciation for the simple things in life: a tree in his garden, the mountain that he sees and hears each night, a branch, the rain. Along the way, Shingo also learns that his family is important, or at least of growing importance to those who are aging.
Also from Japan – Thousand Cranes – By Yasunari Kawabata – Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker – Vintage International, 1958.
United States – The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger – 1945. J.D. Salinger wrote the best opening sentence in American literature, or at least one of the best: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Cooperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” This sentence introduces a wonderful piece of American 20th Century literature. The main character, Holden Caulfield, grew up in the American dream. He lived in a wealthy section of New York City, attended private schools, had nice clothes which others liked to borrow, owned the best luggage, and had cash to spend. Yet, as Salinger points out by the end of the novel, the reality of life does not fit into the dream. Along the way we learn more about the “phoniness” of the wealthy ideals, the competitiveness of prep schools, the drive to humiliate those who can’t quite keep up, and the willingness to sell out for money. He also points out those little genuine moments that make us truly happy, like dancing with your sister, giving money to nuns collecting for the poor, helping kids in a museum, and watching a merry-go-round. In the end, we see Salinger’s genius, which is much like the genius of the beat writers. He is able to point out the simple things that make life better and highlight those fake dreams that create tension and falsity.
Also from the United States – Upstream: Selected Essays – By Mary Oliver – Penguin Books, 2016 – A wonderfully beautiful collection of essays by a favorite American poet. A Thousand Mornings – By Mary Oliver – Penguin Books, 2012. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway – 1926.