Around the World in 80 Books Challenge – Wrap!

“The Road goes ever on and on…”

Way back in March 2016, I decided to participate in the Around the World in 80 Books Challenge, created and hosted by Sarah and Lucy at Hard Book Habit. Here’s what they said:

Here’s the deal. You’ll need to read 80 books set or connected with the random destinations of your choice, then you blog about each book that you read en route. You can choose any books you like – this challenge is not limited to fiction – and the only catch is that you must read at least one book connected to each continent, one sea-based book, and a book that involves travel – think the Orient Express, flight, hot-air balloons, train journeys, car trips, etc… the rest is up to you.

(Sadly in the intervening years Hard Book Habit has ceased to exist, and as far as I know Sarah and Lucy are no longer blogging.)

Four and a half years later, I limped wearily home, having visited every continent, sailed every sea, travelled through time and even ventured into space.

My original plan, which for once I stuck to, was to go back to the book that inspired the challenge, Around the World in Eighty Days, and see if I could find books for each stage of Phileas Fogg’s original journey. Wikipedia not only told me where Fogg and his faithful servant Passepartout stopped, but they provided a map which became my logo for the challenge…

That would fill 27 of the 80 slots, and the other 53 would be detours – taking me anywhere and everywhere, but making sure to meet each of the requirements of the challenge.

So here it is – the final list, with links to all my reviews:

The Main Journey

  1. London  – Martin Chuzzlewit
  2. Orient Express – Travels with My Aunt
  3. France – The Sisters of Versailles
  4. Alps – Crossed Skis
  5. Venice – Titian’s Boatman
  6. Brindisi – That Summer in Puglia
  7. Mediterranean Sea – Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas
  8. Suez – Something to Answer For
  9. Egypt – Palace Walk
  10. Red Sea/Arabian Sea – Lord Jim
  11. Bombay – Selection Day
  12. Calcutta – A Rising Man
  13. Kholby – The Jewel in the Crown
  14. Elephant Travel – The Elephant’s Journey
  15. Allahabad – The Sign of the Four
  16. Indian Ocean/ South China Sea – A Dangerous Crossing
  17. Hong Kong – How to Pick Up a Maid in Statue Square
  18. Shanghai – Death of a Red Heroine
  19. Yokohama – Around the World in Eighty Days
  20. Pacific – Moby-Dick: Or, The White Whale
  21. San Francisco – The Dain Curse
  22. Sioux lands – Days Without End
  23. Omaha – The Swan Gondola
  24. New York – Three-Martini Lunch
  25. Atlantic Ocean – Treasure Island
  26. Queenstown (Cobh) Ireland – Dead Wake
  27. London – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

The Detours

  1. The Hebrides – Coffin Road
  2. Florida – Their Eyes Were Watching God
  3. Iceland – Snowblind
  4. Himalayas – Black Narcissus
  5. Ireland – The Heather Blazing
  6. Channel Islands – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society
  7. Australian Outback – Fear is the Rider
  8. Portugal – The High Mountains of Portugal
  9. Milan, Italy – The Murdered Banker
  10. Havana, Cuba – A Heart So White
  11. Saturn – 2001: A Space Odyssey
  12. Kabul, Afghanistan – The Kite Runner
  13. Vatican City – Conclave
  14. Dresden, Germany – Slaughterhouse-Five
  15. Scottish Highlands – Murder of a Lady
  16. The French Riviera – Death on the Riviera
  17. Kiev, Ukraine – The White Guard
  18. North Korea – The Accusation
  19. Chechnya – The Tsar of Love and Techno
  20. Japan – Penance
  21. Beijing, China – Braised Pork
  22. Ancient Greece – House of Names
  23. Bosnia and Herzegovina – Testimony
  24. Moscow, Russia – Doctor Zhivago
  25. Republic of the Congo – Brazzaville Beach
  26. Thailand – Behind the Night Bazaar
  27. Antarctic – Endurance
  28. Wales – The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories
  29. Spain – The Man Who Loved Dogs
  30. New Zealand – The Ice Shroud
  31. Gibraltar – The Rock
  32. Canada – Brother
  33. Jordan – Appointment with Death
  34. South Africa – The Good Doctor
  35. Lebanon – Pearls on a Branch
  36. Colombia – The Shape of the Ruins
  37. Uruguay – Springtime in a Broken Mirror
  38. Ancient Rome – Imperium
  39. Norway – The Katharina Code
  40. South Korea – The Plotters
  41. Europe – Europe: A Natural History
  42. Colonial Malay – The Night Tiger
  43. Istanbul, Turkey – 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World
  44. Papua New Guinea – Mister Pip
  45.  Zululand – Nada the Lily
  46.  East Germany – The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
  47.  Mexico – The Pearl
  48.  Nigeria – Things Fall Apart
  49.  Öland, Sweden – Echoes from the Dead
  50.  Sicily – The Leopard
  51.  Ruritania – The Prisoner of Zenda
  52.  The Arctic – Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus
  53.  Romania – Sword

* * * * *


I loved doing this challenge – probably the one I’ve enjoyed most of all the ones I’ve participated in. While I filled a lot of the spots on my journey from books I’d have been reading anyway, I also kept a weather eye open for books set in places I hadn’t yet visited, and that led me to read many books that probably would have otherwise passed me by. So to celebrate the end of the challenge, I’ve decided to highlight just five of the books, each of which I loved and probably wouldn’t have read without this incentive.

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz

A family saga, set in Egypt to the backdrop of the end of WW1, the rise of nationalism and the dying days of colonial Egypt. It took me a long time to feel involved with this family and their community but once I did I became completely absorbed in the slow telling of their lives. Usually I’d be more interested in the out-going, more political lives of the sons, but in this case I found myself fascinated by Mahfouz’ depiction of the lives and feelings of the women – the total seclusion and lack of agency, and the way that the mothers themselves trained their daughters to accept, conform and even be contented with this half-life. A deserved classic, and for once a Nobel Prize-winning novel that I feel merits that accolade.

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

There are three distinct sections in this novel, each very different but with common themes running through them, and all linked to a small town in the High Mountains, Tuizelo. It is a subtle discussion of the evolution vs. faith debate, with the old evolutionary saw of “risen apes, not fallen angels” appearing repeatedly. Chimps appear in some form in each of the sections, sometimes symbolically, sometimes actually. I found the whole thing an original and insightful approach to the question that provokes thought without forcing any specific answers on the reader. The writing is nothing short of brilliant. It flows smoothly, feels light and airy, but is full of insight into grief and love and heartache, and has left some indelible images in my mind.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing

This is a straightforward, factual telling of the story of Ernest Shackleton and his crew, and their failed 1914 bid to cross the Antarctic on foot from west to east. It’s also one of the most stirring and emotionally turbulent books I’ve ever read. I found myself totally caught up in the men’s adventure, willing them on, crying over each new disaster, celebrating with them over any small triumph. Talk about emotional rollercoaster! As it got towards the end, my tension levels were going through the roof, just as they would have been had these men been personal friends – indeed, after the long journey I’d made in their company, I truly felt they were.

Springtime in a Broken Mirror by Mario Benedetti

Santiago is a political prisoner in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the 1970s. His family and friends are scattered, exiled from the country they call home. Although the book is based around the revolutions of South America, it is not about politics as such; rather, it is about the impact that political upheaval has on the individuals caught up in it. It’s about home and exile, loneliness, longing, belonging. It’s about loyalty and love, and sometimes despair. It’s profoundly moving – full of emotional truth. And, in the end, it holds out hope: that the human spirit has the resilience to find new ways of living when the old ones are taken away. A wonderful read.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

Tequila Leila’s body is dead, but her brain has not yet shut completely down. As her consciousness slowly fades, she finds herself drifting through memories of her life – the childhood that made her the woman she would become, her family, her loves and, most of all, her friends. And along the way, we are given a picture of the underbelly of Istanbul, of those on the margins finding ways to live in a society that rejects them. The prose is wonderful, the many stories feel utterly true and real, and they are beautifully brought together to create an intensely moving picture of a life that might pass unremarked and unmourned by society, but showing how remarkable such a life can be in its intimate details and how mourning is a tribute gained by a loving, generous soul regardless of status.

This was an incredibly hard choice, since I tried hard to fill most of the slots with great books, and there are very few in the final list that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend. And I thoroughly enjoyed rounding the whole thing off by reading the wonderful Around the World in Eighty Days itself, which not only filled the impossible Yokohama spot but was an excellent way to bring my travels to an end.

Thanks for joining me on my epic journey. 😀

87 thoughts on “Around the World in 80 Books Challenge – Wrap!

  1. Ha, I see my love of travelling via books is a contagious disease! It’s really fun, isn’t it, opening yourself up to the landscapes, lifestyles, views of other places, other people. I’m glad you managed to finish it. (I should review my own #EU27 project, which is much smaller than yours, and which has been limping on for years).

    Liked by 1 person

    • A well-deserved entry! The Mahfouz was excellent, and I’m looking forward to reading the other two parts of the trilogy – hopefully before I forget everything that happened in Part 1! I have A Suitable Boy on my TBR, but the idea of reading a 5-million page book is somewhat daunting… 😉


    • Hahaha, thank you! 😀 It’s been a great challenge – really made me go off the beaten path and produced some fantastic reads. I may have come to the end of this journey, but I’ll keep travelling…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great challenge, FictionFan! And I’m especially glad to see that you had so many detours, and explored so many places you haven’t visited before. It’s those side trips that can be the most exciting. And isn’t it fantastic that you enjoyed it as much as you did. Some challenges feel a bit like slogs, but this one sounds interesting and really engaging. And as an aside, you’ve reminded me that I still haven’t read the Shafak, which I’ve meant to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The detours were the best – some of the spots on the main journey were nearly impossible to find good books for! This one worked so well, I think, because it didn’t start off with a booklist – instead books just got added as I went along. It made it feel a lot less pressurised and more relaxed. Must remember that, if I do another challenge. 😉 I do recommend the Shafak – a great book!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulations! I’ve really enjoyed reading your reviews of these books over the past few years, and it’s introduced me to books I might not otherwise have heard of. I read the Elif Shafak after your review and loved it, for example. This makes me want to embark on my own round-the-world jaunt through books (once I’ve finished my Transmongolian reading list, though).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh, Transmongolian always sounds so exotic! This has been a great challenge and I’m sorely tempted to do it all again, but I’m going to try to find a slightly different angle if I can think of one. I’m glad I tempted you to read the Shafak – I really loved that book! These challenges are always a good way to make us wander off the beaten track… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Truly an impressive list! Well done! It’s great that so many books on the list are books you would recommend.

    Now if only someone would start a Chocolate in Books tour. . . . I am imagining all of the tasty fare!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, now you just made me spend half an hour trying to think of any books I’ve read that had chocolate in them – the list is surprisingly tiny! 😂

      Yes, it’s been a great challenge this one – I must find another one that will keep me travelling! 😀


  5. You will probably miss this now it is complete, you could always start again and have another journey round the world. I’m glad it introduced you to some great books you maybe wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m missing it already! I’d love to do something similar again – it made me look out for interesting locations and got me off my well-worn path, and I ended up loving most of the books I read for it (though not all… Moby-Dick’s in there, after all… 😉 ) I’m trying to come with a new version, maybe to start at the beginning of next year… 😀


  6. This is a major accomplishment and I’m giving you a standing ovation!! I’m a little embarrassed to note that I’ve not read any from your main journey and only three from your side trips. (Channel Islands, Dresden Germany, Ancient Rome) You didn’t travel anywhere near my neck of the woods, so you’ll have to remedy that someday. 😉 I do have one of your top five waiting in my Kindle. (Elif Shafak)


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – it’s been such a great fun challenge to do! 😀 Now, I “travelled” all the way across the States from San Francisco to New York via Omaha by train (mostly) so I must have been fairly close to you at some point surely?? I have thought in the past of doing a “book per state” tour of the US – I’ve seen quite a few bloggers doing that, usually for crime fiction. But I’m still working on what form my next virtual travel adventures should take… I do hope you enjoy the Shafak – I loved that one! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I looked back again to make sure, but nope… you didn’t come anywhere near me! I’ll have to give some thought to Arkansas books, in case you ever do decide to “travel” here. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I am in awe of your determination to keep that balloon aloft for four years. Congrats!! You are tempting me again, as usual to read ones on your list. I’ve read Palace Walk, although years ago (recall enjoying it but that’s as far as memory serves. Old brain cells are flaking daily). I find myself particularly attracted to Springtime in a Broken Mirror and 10 Minutes 38 Seconds….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I know – I surprised myself by sticking it out! The quality of the books was really high overall – unless I got stuck for a particular location, bad books didn’t make it onto the final list. Both excellent choices that I think you may enjoy. The Shafak is wonderfully life-affirming and actually so is Springtime, though in a completely different way. 10 Minutes is about individual humans, whereas Springtime is rather more about the “human condition”, if that makes sense. Both beautifully written… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh My what an achievement! The whole thing is such a good idea, I may have to come back to it for a second look – at first look Endurance sounds very special. What will you do with yourself now?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – I loved doing this challenge! Haha, well, I have four and a half years’ worth of laundry to do, and that will give me time to think up some new way to continue my virtual travelling! 😉 Endurance was wonderful – such an emotional ride! I can never remember who does and doesn’t listen to audiobooks, but I listened to the audio version of Endurance and the narrator was brilliant – I’m sure that made it even more special. It’s definitely a classic for a reason! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m so impressed, I think I’m on about 52! But like you I’m really enjoying the challenge. I’m a bit concerned that the additional rule I made for myself that each book has to be written by a person from that country is going to get harder and harder to fulfill – fingers crossed for plentiful translations!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s my one regret – that so many of the books on my list are written by Brits about other countries rather than by people from those countries themselves, though I did find some excellent ones in translation along the way! But I’m sure I’ll be travelling again in some form soon, so we may still meet up in some out of the way railway station somewhere in the world some day… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – it’s been a great fun challenge to do! And yes, the real joy of it is that it tempted me to read all kinds of things I wouldn’t usually have looked at, and then discovered to my surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed most of them! 😀


  10. I agree, Endurance was absolutely gripping. I happened upon it because astronaut Scott Kelly brought it to the International Space Station when he spent a year there, and he kept mentioning how’d he read passages of it whenever he was homesick, realizing that while traveling through space was hard, he didn’t have to brave the elements for over a year like Shackleton’s men. And Kelly’s book is also called Endurance, which I recommend; it would truly make your book journey “around the world”. Congrats for not giving up and picking up books you might not have otherwise.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh, I hadn’t heard about the Kelly book – that does sound great! Thanks for the recommendation! 😀 I loved Endurance so much – I listened to the audiobook version which meant it was a slow read for me (I can only do audio in short chunks) and I was in total suspense over the fate of the men for ages, especially because I didn’t actually know whether they survived or not. By the end the tension was nearly unbearable! 😀


  11. I’m in awe! This is a mammoth achievement and you deserve to be liberally strewn with chocolate from around the world in a mark of recognition. I had a little chuckle about that detour to Saturn – I expect that’s where most of the four years went! 😂 Of course now I want to do this. A serious list – an itinerary no less. But I know that I can’t; I’m acceptinging my limitations. Nonetheless, it will keep me happily occupied one miserable afternoon: I can plan my literary tour to the nth degree and feel very happy.
    Who knows, maybe in between all the list making I’ll find time to read a few… 😉

    Meanwhile, FF… Now you’re home again….. What’s next? 😱

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I wonder how much chocolate I consumed during the course of the journey? A truly frightening thought! 😉 Haha, Saturn may have been cheating a bit, but then I also went to Ruritania. The joys of virtual travel over the real thing! 😂
      You know, I think the reason I enjoyed this challenge so much is that I didn’t start with a book list or a deadline – I just waited to see where my reading took me and kept an eye out for books with interesting locations. It meant I never felt under any kind of pressure, except at the very end trying to fill one or two of the compulsory spots on the Main Journey. A lesson I must learn for future challenges…

      Haha, well, first I need to do the accumulated four and a half years’ worth of laundry, and while that’s happening I shall be thinking of some new way to continue my virtual travelling – maybe I’ll even persuade you to join me for some of the way… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  12. How impressive to (a) contemplate doing this (b) follow it to the end (c) choose such an impressive range (d) marshal all eighty with links into one post! I’ve read only a handful of these but sadly I lack the stamina and the vision to choose my own list and pursue it with so single-mindedly!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m impressed by how you didn’t just tick boxes to fill quota here, but really settled in and paid attention to what your journey had to offer (what I used to think of as the difference between a tourist and a traveller in my own travelling days). I’ve read nearly 20 of the books you listed and have about the same number on my list. Many of these books have been read or noted thanks to your reviews! Thanks for reminding me about Endurance, on my list, but a little forgotten. I didn’t listen to audiobooks when you first reviewed it, but I do now, and look forward to that immersion (maybe next winter!). I also greatly enjoyed Springtime and 10 Minutes – thanks for these recommendations too. Congratulations on your persistence and fulfilment of plans!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Looking out for interesting sounding books was half the fun – I could probably have completed it more quickly if I’d gone for anything set in a place rather than trying to find something that actually told us a bit about the place or time. So glad you enjoyed Springtime and 10 Minutes – Springtime particularly is one of those books which I think about often, and I still love Laila and her friends! Endurance is fab and the narration really was perfect for the book – definitely a winter read. I don’t think I’ve complained about our annual pathetic three inches of snow since I read it… 😉 Trying to think of a new travelling adventure – hopefully I’ll be able to tempt you to join me for part of my journey again! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Really impressed that you did this and managed to enjoy the experience. Challenges of this magnitude often start off sounding wonderful but its hard to keep up the enthusiasm.

    On a side note, I hadn’t realised Hard Book Habit had ceased to exist though I hadn’t seen it active for a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find challenges motivate me to look for books I wouldn’t otherwise choose, so that keeps me interested, usually. I have dumped a couple of challenges that I got bored with halfway through.

      I know, it was still there for a long time and I thought they might come back, but it’s disappeared entirely now.


  15. Congratulations on completing this! It is by far, I think one of the hardest reading challenges i’ve come across in our book blogging world. Also, I love that Brother represents Canada because ti’s some of the best writing we have to offer 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Huge congratulations! That is a great achievement. I plan to finish my own “50 Books Around the World” challenge sometimes at the beginning of the next year. And, I am also reading Naguib Mahfouz’s book for “Egypt” . I was thinking about doing the whole of his “Cairo Trilogy” with “Palace of Desire” and “Sugar Street”, but then realised it will be too much for me 🙂 Have you read Pamuk’s “My Name is Red”? If you loved Shafak’s “10 Minutes 38 Seconds” that much, I think you may love Pamuk’s book too (there is the same “mind-slipping-away” scenario there and the murder mystery is better done).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – it’s been a great challenge to do! I’m hoping to read the other two volumes of the Cairo Trilogy sometime. I’ll maybe stick them on my next Classics Club list. No, I haven’t read any Pamuk – thanks for the recommendation, I shall add it to the wishlist! I’m usually a terribly insular reader which is why this challenge has been so good – it’s forced me to read books I wouldn’t have though of otherwise.

      Liked by 1 person

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