9 February 2015

Around the world: 10 amazing books from 10 countries you have to read + some FREE ebooks

I have SO MANY clickbait top ten listicles just sitting in my documents folder thanks to freelance work, that I thought why not polish them up and put them up here. A version of this appeared in POPxo. My basic problem with top ten lists is that it seems to be telling you HERE THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD READ AND NOT ANYTHING ELSE, which is, I guess, the premise? But think of this more like a top ten SUGGESTION. When it comes to reading, it’s easy to stay in a safe zone. You have your usual classics, your “classical” classics so to speak that everyone reads in college or high school and then you forget all about classics for the rest of your life.  Read this shit though. You'll enjoy them. 

Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn (Australia)

Technically a book for young adults, this story of a young girl who loses her mother and has to go live with her long lost father and new family will make you weep like nothing has since Little Women. It’s also a very Australian book, the eponymous Thunderwith is a dingo dog, there’s Australian farmland and references to literature, and all in all, it will leave you richer for reading it. I can't find a nice (cheap) version of it for you to buy online, so you'll just have to do it the old fashioned way and ask your favourite bookstore to order it for you.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Britain)
I'm like obsessed with this book as you already know. It could be because it's the first classic I discovered for myself: borrowing an abridged version of a friend's. A basic hero’s journey plot—Jane is an orphan with cruel relatives who’s sent away to a boarding school for poor children, then earns her living as a governess to a man who has a secret in his attic (no spoilers!) and falls in love with him as one does. It’s vast and spanning, and I remember when I first read it, I couldn’t put it down. It's lapsed copyright, which means, yup, FREE. Read it here.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Canada)

Where you should begin your long course of dystopian writing. Atwood’s book continues to echo in all the best sci-fi books list, and it’s not for no good reason either. It’s about a world where women are forced to have children for powerful men and one rebel. Brilliant and will echo today’s horrible world. Here's where I have to stop and say THANK YOU to the Good Thing, for, yes, yes, recommending it and insisting I read it. Buy here.

Twenty Love Poems And A Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda (Chile)

It couldn’t be a proper top ten list without some poetry, and what poetry this is too! Neruda’s verses are the sort you want to get tattooed on your wrists, just
so you can look at them over and over again. It’s brilliant, and you’ll find yourself reciting it alone or to someone you love at 2 am. It’s that kind of poetry. Here’s a bit:
I like for you to be still: it is as though you were absent,
distant and full of sorrow as though you had died.
One word then, one smile, is enough.
And I am happy, happy that it's not true.

Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen (Denmark)

Andersen’s tales are too dark for children, and can only be properly appreciated from a grown up point of view. Think of The Little Match Girl where she freezes to death lighting matches and seeing all her dead loved ones appearing in front of her? Or The Child In The Grave where a dead child brings his mother to heaven or wherever he is to reassure her that he is happy? Plus hundreds of stories you probably never even heard of. The good news is that it’s copyright free and you can read them all online here. This ain't your Disney mermaid though.

Sex And The Citadel by Shereen El Feki (Egypt)

Not quite a classic-classic yet as it just recently came out, but this is an important book dealing with sex and sexuality in Arab countries. El Feki, a journalist, spent several years travelling across Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries to talk about sex, what it meant to people there, and how Islam relates to sex. It’s an important book for anyone who wants to know more about sex or religion or both. I heard her at Jaipur last year, and was super impressed. Buy it here.

Claudine in Paris by Colette (France)

There are four Claudine books, but this one—the second of the series--can be read as a standalone novel. It’s a coming of age story about seventeen year old Claudine, who has just moved to Paris from the French countryside with her father, maid and cat.  Written in a diary form, the book captures a young, innocent girl in the big city trope perfectly, and because this is Colette, there’s a certain amount of underlying eroticism. (Quite sexy.) Very French, and you’re bound to want a Gauloises and a glass of wine while you read it. Buy it here. Mmmm Gauloises.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Germany)


This is the story of Gregor Samsa who woke up one morning to find he had turned into an insect. (Some people say cockroach, but it’s not specified.) With that kind of opening, how can you not want to read Kafka’s defining story about being who you are, and becoming who others see you as? Every woman should read this novella as an allegory if nothing else about social gaze and turning into monsters. FREE! YAY!


The Mahabharata by Ramesh Menon (India) 

Pretty much the best retelling of the Mahabharata I’ve ever read, this two volume wrist breaker tells the story in accessible, easy-to-read language. If you’re going to read a classic in India, begin with the mother of all classics and see where so many stories, and names come from. Plus, there’s a lot of sex and fighting to keep it interesting! Like Game of Thrones in Indian mythology. {I realise it's sad to compare an epic to a recent set of fantasy books (however amazing), but I need to appeal to the cool kids, so bear with me.} Buy it here.

The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (Japan)


I have my copy of this, one of the world’s oldest books, at close access all the time. It’s not a book you read all at once, but Shonagon used to be a court lady to the Empress in the 11th century and this is a collection of musings she put down in a book she kept by her pillow. Hence the title. You’ll find it a wonder of observations, personal thoughts and lists. Shonagon could be as bitchy as a teenager with a Twitter account you’ll find, especially in things like “Things people despise: […] People who have a reputation for being exceptionally good natured.” Preach it, sister. Buy here.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for all the recommendations! Would love to read as yet unread items from this list, especially 'The Handmaid's Tale' and Pablo Neruda's poems.

    ReplyDelete

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