As a writer, it probably won’t surprise you that I grew up with my head in a book. My hand was as close to surgically connected to the written word as one could get. When I wasn’t reading, I was writing… skits, plays, short stories, beginnings of novels, fan fiction very near the voice of whatever I’d just finished reading.
I remember one day in middle school, a boy came up to me and said he knew exactly who I was. I don’t remember the details anymore, but I think he’d moved out of town or to a different school during most of elementary school, and we were meeting up again at the middle school level. At any rate, he said:
“You were the girl in first grade who always bounced down the hallway with your nose in a book and a giant smile on your face.”
Guilty as charged. 🙂
My love of books goes way back.
These days, I don’t read as much as I once did, though it goes in bursts. Most months I’m able to make it through about a book. During an annual family vacation, I’ll make it through four or five in about three weeks. Sometimes I’ll read more, sometimes less.
I do find it challenging to balance reading with writing (these days for my stories, but for 7+ years as a journalist and content writer before I chose to transition away from freelance) and editing (for clients). Each type of interaction with words is very different, and uses a different part of the brain, a different skill set, and I do find it a challenge to transition. It’s tough to squeeze all three into a day, but I try.
When I read, I read as much to learn as to escape.
I love books that open my eyes to people and places that are unfamiliar to me, whether fiction or non. I want characters and stories that sing long after I’ve closed the pages.
Last week, I was listening to TED Radio Hour, and there was an interview with Ann Morgan, talking about her TED Talk called “My Year of Reading a Book from Every Country in the World.” (I’m a little sad to admit she hadn’t even crossed my radar until now, though she’s clearly been around for a while.)
The gist of it is, Ann Morgan is an avid reader and a British woman who realized that the books she was reading were heavily anglocentric, in terms of who wrote them, their original languages, and where they were published.
So, in 2011, she decided to do something about it. She decided to take a year and attempt to read a book from every nation in the world.
As she shared in a blog post about the project, Ann had a lot of questions to answer to determine how she would count reading a book from each country:
“As soon as I started to plan the project in earnest, the questions started coming in. Was I including poetry? What about plays? And memoirs? Where did I stand on biographies? Did journalism count? Did the books have to be contemporary?”
As she proceeded with the challenge, answers became more clear, as did the reality of how dangerous it can be to write or get literature out in some countries, especially those closed off to the Western world.
And then, there were the issues of access to books from many of the countries. Countries with a robust publishing structure were more likely to have books translated into English than those without.
In the TED Talk, she tells a story of how she couldn’t find any books translated from Sao Tome and Principe, an island nation in Africa. She figured out a collection of short stories that she wanted to read—it had been written in Portuguese, one of the official languages of the country, but had never been translated. So she put a call out on social media for volunteer translators, ordered each person a copy of the book and assigned a section, and within a few weeks was able to read the book.
A Challenge to Myself
I was so inspired by her talk that I have decided I’d like to do something similar. I would not begin to imagine that this is something I could do in a year… I’d have to read at a rate of one book approximately every 1.5 days, but it is something that I’d like to do over a span of several years. My sister was in the car with me as we were listening to the TED Talk, and I said, “Well, there’s something to add to the bucket list!”
I’m going to begin a list of every nation (and update it as nations change), and mark down the books I read as I go along.
As Ann Morgan’s question above posed, there is much nuance with respect to how to count and classify the books.
Does one aspect matter more than any other: geographic setting, nation of first publication, author nationality? And how do they tie in with one another?
Do I want to count books that I have already read, or should I start with a fresh slate?
I think I’ll probably make note of the books I’ve already read, but mark them as read before knowing about the challenge, then commit to reading more.
Of the top of my head, I could include translations I’ve read from Japan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Argentina, and non-American books written in English in Ireland and Great Britain. It’s a start, but hardly robust considering there are 195 nations in the world today.
Is there a separate space for travel and immigrant stories? How would I classify or count books written by authors from around the world, first published within the American publishing industry?
What of these hybrid, cross-cultural views of the world?
We live in a fluid world, resulting in a wealth of talent from all over the world living in any nation. I value those books and voices, and the immigrant stories and feelings of living between worlds and cultures, feeling slightly “other” no matter who you’re surrounded by.
They are so important, but perhaps deserve a subset that I’ll have to build in.
(Yes, Ann Morgan, I am starting to feel your qualms about deciding what sorts of stories to count and how to count them!)
I am a huge fan books about travel (“Return to Tibet” by Austrian climber Heinrich Harrer is a personal favorite) and there is value in viewing a culture from without, but it is a different way of viewing things versus within.
Last year, I read “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi and “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Yaa was born in Ghana and raised in the United States; Chimamanda was born and raised in Nigeria and splits her time between Nigeria and the United States.
Both were excellent books that I would highly recommend, and both explore storytelling across borders: in the United States and in Ghana and Nigeria, respectively. I will definitely read more books by Ghanaian and Nigerian authors as I begin this challenge for myself, but if I were to count them toward the challenge, would I count them as stories from Ghana and Nigeria, or from the United States? Hard to say!
It’s going to be tough to classify at times. I have no doubt there will be books that will be extremely difficult to read, particularly those that address human rights violations and substandard living conditions in so much of the world. But I am positive that in the end, it will all be worth it.
Once I figure out how to go about it doing all of this, I’ll add a page somewhere here at Of Love + Light so that you can see progress and make recommendations for countries I’ve missed.
I will likely put together a public Wish List on Amazon to keep track of recommendations I receive, and offer a view of what may be to come.
Do you have a favorite book from around the world that I should add to my list? Please share in the comments!
Let me know the title and author of the book, and the country it comes from.
I’m especially interested in stories that celebrate or highlight women’s issues, creative expression, and raise awareness for any sort of minority and ethnic rights. Historical fiction interests me, as do stories that incorporate local mythology in modern storytelling. But I’d consider just about anything!
It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, so long as there is engaging storytelling. I’m interested in real settings, so not sci-fi or fantasy (at least for the purposes of this list).
This’ll be a looooong process that I expect to take years, but I look forward to reading voices from all around the world.
See What Ann Morgan Read
Ann Morgan has been kind enough to share her entire list with the world and she wrote a book about the experience, titled “The World Between Two Covers” in the United States and “Reading the World” in the United Kingdom. She’s updated her list online since finishing the project in 2012 to include additional books she’s read from each country. I expect to visit her site relatively often for insight and inspiration.
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Of Love + Light is a place for uplifting media, creative inspiration, art, nifty creative publications, and storytelling. I also offer editing, creativity coaching, and small business communications planning services. Founded by Alana Garrigues, Of Love + Light is your place to come, relax, feel inspired and loved, and share more of what’s good on this beautiful planet.
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“Reading the World: Inspired by Ann Morgan” was posted as part of the Daily Dose: Inspired series.
Daily Dose: Inspired… Looking for a small something to get you inspired to take on the day? This is the place to come for a photo, a song, a pick-me-up quote, a little slice of happy. At least, these are the things that inspire me!