Armchair BEA – Travel the World Through Books

Design from Amber of http://www.shelfnotes.com

Today’s Armchair BEA discussion topic is “Beyond the Borders”, reading out of your comfort zone, your home country or culture and travel the world through books. Here’s the writing prompt:

It’s time to step outside your comfort zone, outside your borders, or outside of your own country or culture. Tell us about the books that transported you to a different world, taught you about a different culture, and/or helped you step into the shoes of someone different from you. What impacted you the most about this book? What books would you recommend to others who are ready or not ready to step over the line? In essence, let’s start the conversation about diversity and keep it going!

My Comfort Zone and Culture

My comfort zone and culture is always a sensitive subject. My parents are Indian immigrants but I was born and raised in America. I look Indian (or to some who try to speak Spanish to me, Hispanic) but I sound, act and have been educated in America. I love Indian food but I don’t know how to cook it. I can understand our Indian dialect, but can’t speak it. I love the beauty, reverence and respect our Hindu ceremonies exhibit, but had no idea what was being said by the priest or the more detailed meaning behind the rituals. My Indian friends went to Indian classical dance and religion classes growing up, and I felt uncomfortable wearing a sari for my first and only time.

As a kid, I felt neither traditionally Indian nor traditionally American. And as an adult, when someone asks “Where are you from?”, I honestly never know whether they mean where I live now, where I grew up or my Indian heritage. Somehow I always answer it in the way the person asking did not intend. Now, my husband is of Hispanic heritage and I cook more Hispanic food and celebrate their holiday and wedding traditions. Perhaps I am culturally confused.

Taking My Cultural Identity into my Own Hands

I could give you the long answer but I will spare you the details. I don’t think with the severity of my Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune illness, I would be able to endure a trip to India again. It breaks my heart that 3 of my grandparents never met their great-grandsons but I am more fearful of the health repercussions a trip to a Third World country would take on me.

So I stopped the pity party and  decided instead to immerse myself in Indian geography and culture through books. Since starting the Around the World in 80 Books Reading Challenge, I’ve read 4 books set in India and thoroughly enjoyed them. The books helped unlock some wonderful memories of my trip to India as a teenager. Each one impacted me in completely different ways, tears of joy, heartache and awe and in Karma Gone Bad, somewhat offended.

monsoon-memoriesUnder the Jeweled Sky

first darling of the morningKarma Gone Bad
















These books have encouraged me to have conversations about India with my kids and they are excited to go when they are older. We borrow books about India and Hinduism for them too, we talk about what they learn about India in school, we ask my parents questions, and it all helps connect me to my heritage.


Taking On a New Challenge

Since I signed up for the Around the World in 80 Books Reading Challenge, the challenge host seems to have removed the blog. So I am in the process of creating a new Travel the World Through Books Reading Challenge to similarly encourage readers to travel the world through books. I want to further encourage readers to pick a book that teaches them about a culture different than their own. Of all the reading I have done, I enjoy most getting immersed in another culture and celebrating its people, land and food! To correct our misconceptions about a culture we think is so different, and realize the similarities. What sets us apart and what brings us together.

If you are interested in joining me on this challenge, leave me a comment and let me know. I’m excited to get it ready and launch before July 1st! And if you have any catchier names, I could use some ideas, Around the World in 80 Books was a good one. Make sure to subscribe by email so you don’t miss the launch.

Be sure to stop by and add your links to our Small Victories Sunday Linkup and an old post to our Throwback Thursday Linkup too!


    1. Thanks for sharing your summer reading list Chris. I am ready to start my reading travels, starting in India of course as I have a bunch I already own and want to catch up on.

  1. I just saw this. Where do I sign up!!! I’ve picked out and ordered my first book from the library. This is what I need to get my blogging and reading mojo back. I’ve been in a slump. Thanks for taking the lead on this Tanya and I love the new title.

    1. I am still working on a new blog button for the challenge but its one of my Blogathon goals to get it done this weekend. I am trying to regain my blogging mojo too, its been hard with kids getting out for the summer.

  2. I feel like the world is getting smaller and more and more integrated and if you cannot identify with a cultural heritage, then why force yourself to just because it may be part of your lineage?! I would say just tell people who ask that you are an American! Isn’t America after all a nation of immigrants?! 🙂

  3. That’s cool that books are helping you raise kids who are connected to their heritage, while growing up enmeshed in the culture that they live in.

    I discovered this week, through someone’s Armchaire BEA blog post, that there’s an active Around the World in 80 Books group on Goodreads. They seem to read specific books each month, so that’s probably not quite what you’re looking for but may be of interest.

    I like Travel the World Through Books as a name.

    1. Thanks Joy, I am part of the Around the World in 52 books Goodreads group but am just bad about updating my blog posts there. Thanks for letting me know about the 80 books group too. It will be something I might join and try to match up the books I read, Cutting for Stone, Henrietta Laks and Never Let Me Go are all books I would be interested in reading too. But I still would like a place on my blog mostly for others to link up their book reviews so we can all be inspired by new book recommendations. My challenge will be flexible, people choose their own guidelines and how long they want to do it. Thanks for your feedback and stopping by!

  4. what an awesome idea for a challenge! I love reading about new places, it always lengthens my list of where I’d like to travel to!

  5. Oh, there are so many fantastic Indian writers. I’m not a short story person, but one of my favorite short stories is Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter.”

    Around the World in 80 Books sounds fun!

  6. What an interesting and introspective post! I didn’t realize you were of Indian descent. My great-grandparents came here from the Ukraine, and I don’t know much about the other half of my background, so the Ukrainian culture has always been very important to me. Being a bit more removed than you by a couple of generations, I didn’t have any of the confusion, just the love of my culture! We always ate all the traditional Ukrainian foods on Easter, and my great-grandfather used to speak Ukrainian – I wish my kids were closer to all that, but like you, I have tried to include them and teach them about it.

    One book you might like is The Namesake by Jumpa Lahiri (think I am spelling it right?). It’s about a boy who grows up in America with parents who immigrated from India, and the cultural confusion and conflicts between the generations. It was excellent…and they made a good movie from it, too.

    And, yes, i might be interested in the challenge! I am a bit tied up hosting my own challenge this summer, but, as you know, I do enjoy reading books set in international settings, and I;m assuming your challenge would be longer than just the summer.


    2014 Big Book Summer Challenge

    1. Oh I love what I know about it, which is primarily FOOD! My mom is a fantastic cook and i am slowly getting her Indian recipes to try myself. Of course, they never taste as good. I think my challenge will be flexible, I am going to let participants decide how long they want to complete it, they set the dates and their own guidelines and I will provide a linky and place for discussion. I do hope you join me and well, after ABEA I will join your Big Book Summer Challenge too!

  7. that’s quite sad that health issues mean that the generations will not be able to see each other.
    I think there is a group on Goodreads that is doing something similar to your around the world challenge – and there is also an international reading group where people read a different book each month. You might get some ideas there.
    I seem to read a fair number of books set in India as part of my own world challenge – see if there is anything there that interests you http://bookertalk.com/2014/05/29/armchair-bea-beyond-borders/

    Good luck with your venture!

    1. Yea, it really breaks my heart. But I know I would have to be off the medicine that allows me to feel normal enough to walk for 3 months before the trip just to allow my immune system to start working. Which then means if its working it will cause me pain. I really dont want to be in a wheelchair, especially in India, in front of my kids (or my grandmother who doesn’t need one) yet. I fear what I would catch and not be able to fight because of a messed up immune system. Anyway, I am in that group in goodreads though I am terrifible at updating my blog posts there. I need to catch up! Thanks for the suggestions!

  8. What a fun challenge! I love learning about different cultures and countries, immersing myself in something that’s completely foreign to me and finding similarities to my own life.

    My family has lived in the same state in the US for generations, but I still love learning about my heritage. I come from immigrants (like most of America) and tracking that move from Europe to where we are now is very interesting.

    I’m glad you found a way to immerse yourself in your heritage since you couldn’t travel!

    And I’d completely be interested in joining in the challenge if you host it! 🙂

    1. Thanks Leila! I am thinking about calling it Choose Your Own World Adventure (cause I want people to set their own timeline and guidelines). What do you think?

  9. I love the idea of traveling the world via books. I’m sorry that you won’t be able to go back to visit your family in India, but glad that you have books and other ways to connect to your culture. Thanks for sharing!

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