World traveller goes nowhere

Share Canberra's trusted news:

 LOCAL author John R Brookes has been making his way through country after country for the last five years and he’s only about halfway through a very unusual world tour.

Author John R Brookes… “With a book, you’re in the mind of somebody who’s lived there, so you’re getting a certain insight.” Photo by Gary Schafer
Author John R Brookes… “With a book, you’re in the mind of somebody who’s lived there, so you’re getting a certain insight.” Photo by Gary Schafer
“I’ve just finished Africa, which has been an amazing journey in itself… it’s given me a sense of what it’s really like, on the ground,” he tells “CityNews”.

“Now I’m just starting on the Middle East; I’m in Saudi Arabia at the moment.”

In fact, Brookes is at home in Downer, where’s he’s lived since migrating from England two years ago as a permanent resident.

His book, “Reading the World: A Global Journey Through Literature”, is an ambitious project to experience travelling the whole planet by reading a book from pretty much every country on it, rather than actually visiting them in person.

When he says he’s in Saudi Arabia, he means he just started reading “Girls of Riyadh”, Rajaa Alsanea’s bold expose of the hidden world inhabited by Saudi women such as herself.

It’s his second stop on the Arabian peninsula; he arrived on March 10 after putting down “Yemen: Travels in Dictionary Land” by English ex-pat Tim Mackintosh-Smith, one of the few books on his list written by an author foreign to the country it’s about.

Five days earlier his journey through Africa had ended after two days immersed in the words of Hannah Pool, an Eritrean woman who was adopted by an English family in 1974 and only later discovered her long lost family and the country of her birth.

And on they go, one after the other, a different book set in each country, stretching back to 2009 when the journey began, when Brookes still lived in the UK.

“I’m never going to be able to travel to every country in the world, and even if I could, just for a couple of weeks, well, you’re only going to see the little bits that you see,” he explains.

“Now, at least with a book, you’re in the mind of somebody who’s lived there, so you’re getting a certain insight. It’s never going to be the whole country, it’s always going to be subjective, but it’s like visiting there, in the mind of somebody that lives there.”

Volume one is already published and available online, covering the first two years of his journey crisscrossing Europe from England to the border of Russia.

“This year I’ll be bringing out volume two, which will be Russia to probably as far as the north of Africa,” he says, explaining that he split up large federated nations into their separate states.

“…I read about eight books for Russia, right across to the far east, and then back again through Mongolia and northern China towards the Middle East.”

He hasn’t begun his literary tour of Australia yet but has already picked out the books he’s going to read for each State and Territory.

“For Canberra, I’ve gone for ‘Dead Cat Bounce’, which was only published last year and is actually about a series of political murders,” he reveals.

To segue between each book, he writes as though he is actually travelling to the next country, taking account of the latest information on things like transport, visas and border crossings. He also visits countries that are not recognised as nations within the international community, like Taiwan and a list of more obscure examples.

“One of the most of interesting ones was a place called Transnistria, which doesn’t technically exist,” he says. “It’s a tiny sliver of land which seceded from the USSR and Moldova, and I’ve got two books for it. “Anyway, I actually had an email from the ministry of public affairs in Moldova, asking me to take the link down, because they regarded it as sort of secessionist, almost terrorist, and said I was spreading propaganda.”

He notes “it’s a big commitment” to commit a decade or more of his life to the project, which he expects to continue until 2020.

“In all that time there’s all these other books I’ll quite want to read, but can’t, because I’m focused totally on the journey.”

More information about “Reading the World”, including excerpts, and to order the first volume, at

Who Can You Trust?

In a world beleaguered by spin and confused messages, there's never been more need for diverse, trustworthy, independent journalism in Canberra.

Who can you trust? Well, for more than 25 years, "CityNews" has proudly been an independent, free, family-owned news magazine, serving the national capital with quality, integrity and authority. Through our weekly magazine and daily through our digital platforms, we constantly and reliably deliver high-quality and diverse opinion, news, arts, socials and lifestyle columns.

If you trust our work online and believe in the power of independent voices, I encourage you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support will be invested back into our journalism so we can continue to provide a valuably different view of what's happening around you and keep free.

Click here to make your donation and you will be supporting the future of journalism and media diversity in the ACT.

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Previous articleDining: Taste of class meets a touch of quirk
Next articleDickson man charged with stalking Police, threatening to kill

Leave a Reply