USA is Overrated

I was browsing my Goodreads feed the other day and noticed something interesting. Goodreads, if you are not yet aware, is a social media for readers. It is book-centric and that means that the only things you like (rate), comment on (review), and share are books. As a reader, I use Goodreads mainly for two purposes . The first is as a reading journal. Among its many features, Goodreads allow you to set annual reading goals. I think it is important to look back once in a while to understand what you read. I like to vary the books I read. From many different types of fiction (historical, crime, romance, adventure) to non-fictions (biographies, history, technical books etc.), I value the importance of reading widely instead of the new bestsellers, which is, let’s be honest here, a status basically only means that they are well-funded and does not translate to better intrinsic value. And with this feature, you can also see the goals and books of your friends on the platform. This leads to the second purpose, which is striking up interesting conversation about books and writing. And reading reviews is a beauty in itself too. Some users of Goodreads craft their reviews so magnificently and yet are still critical, and help you to better understand what good or bad writing is.

I adore Goodreads because it is similar to browsing a library, but you only see the books other people are reading. So it provides the first layer of filtration for possible books that might interest you. But therein lies the problem. That interesting observation I mentioned at the start, it is that a lot of the books my friends and I read are mostly American books. In second place are the European, mostly British. The most compelling reason for this is probably that I personally read mostly English books and the fact that the USA is the largest English-speaking country in the world means that their literary library is bound to be bigger. Fair enough. Now, I read because I want to expose myself to the world larger than my personal experiences. As written in the book Call Sign Chaos,

“If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.” – James Mattis

But if the books that you’ve been reading stems from a single country, no matter how diverse that country is, you aren’t exposed to that many more experiences as you thought. This is because the values and priorities of the author translates to the writing and this leads to a cognitive bias of narrative. How ironic that the quote above came from a former American Secretary of Defence. But that proves my point even more. American culture and media has no doubt dominated our lives. From movies, TV shows, books, it is unavoidable. I am not being political here, but this just shows the narrow-mindedness that we can find ourselves in. This illusion that I foresee finding myself in may not be relevant for everyone. I think that it has to go back to why you read. For me, for an exposure of the world beyond mine.

Thinking this makes me wonder why I often gravitate towards books by American business, political, and military leaders. Perhaps it is this illusion of American superiority that the post-Cold War provides. But beyond the politics of it all, the simple fact is that books are just stories of individuals. It tells their single perspective of things, which is why I think it is important to read widely. Because you do not want your mind to be another echo chamber. In a way, this revelation humbles me: to know that the pool of books and perspectives I can potentially be exposed to is widened to about 190 more countries. I have been conscious to read from different genres and perspectives, but maybe now is the time to widen it more and be intentional to find books from South American countries, from countries in central Africa, and the Middle East.

The more time I spend writing this post, the smaller I feel. According to my Goodreads stats, I’ve read 93 books since I started using it 2 years ago. And my guess is that about 75% of them are American or British. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with American books. I’ve enjoyed a good many of them; but the reason I read is not purely for entertainment, and I am confident that there are plenty of equally if not more entertaining books from India, Iraq, Chile, Mongolia, and Algeria.

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