Around the World in 80 Books

Armchair travel challenge sets sail at Whitman County libraries

A pandemic and rising travel costs scuttled more than a few trips over the past couple of years, but a reader challenge underway through the Whitman County Rural Library District promises a tour of the world from patrons’ favorite reading nooks.

Readers in the Colfax-based library district’s 14-site system can sign up for Around the World in 80 Books directly through the Beanstack reading tracker app or at There, they can keep track of books they read set in countries all over the globe.

Participants also are asked to write three reviews, of any length, including something interesting they learned about another country, to complete the challenge.

Adult Services librarian Sarah Phelan-Blamires and other librarians were brainstorming after the summer reading program was over and came up with the Around the World challenge.

“I just personally really like traveling, so I thought that would be fun,” Phelan-Blamires said.

The Whitman County library district started using Beanstack during the pandemic to track summer reading programs remotely, since an in-person, paper sign-up sheet wasn’t an option, Phelan-Blamires said. Other reading challenges, also through Beanstack, can be found on the library district website.

Around the World in 80 Books has no end date yet, since it’s expected to take several years for many readers to complete the challenge.

“It’s definitely something that is a multiyear challenge, because most people don’t read 80 books in a year,” Phelan-Blamires said, noting she tries to read 25 books annually, and they’re not usually all set in different countries.

She said she hopes it’s a way for people who read a lot to get outside of their regular genres, authors and reading habits “and kind of refresh themselves.”

While the 80-book goal might seem intimidating, she invites people who don’t expect to reach that total to participate by setting their own expectations, maybe 10 or 20 books set in countries outside the U.S.

“You can read any book (set in another country),” she said. “They don’t have to be the ones on the list, or even be library books.”

The library district website includes a robust list of both fiction and nonfiction options at for those looking for direction, with a separate list for children and teens.

Examples of suggested books for adults include:

  • Afghanistan – “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini
  • Chile – “The House of Spirits” by Isabel Allende
  • Dominican Republic – “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz
  • Ecuador – “Galapagos” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
  • France – “The Paris Architect” by Charles Belfoure
  • Germany – “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel Brown
  • Haiti – “Island Beneath the Sea” by Isabel Allende
  • Israel – The Source by James A. Michener
  • Jamaica – “White Teeth” by Sadie Smith
  • Mexico – “The Pearl” by John Steinbeck
  • Nigeria – “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Poland – “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris
  • South Korea – “Kim Jiyoung: Born 1982” by Cho Nam-Ju
  • Turkey – “My Name is Red” by Orhan Pamuk
  • Ukraine – “Everything is Illuminated” by Jonathan Safran Foer