By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief
How’s this for a New Year’s resolution: read a book from every single country in the world. That is what Ann Morgan did in 2012, when she set up her blog, A Year of Reading the World, and, at a pace of four to five books a week, began reading, in translation, fiction, and occasionally memoirs, from countries around the world.
Now, her work has been compiled into a book, The World Between Two Covers, which is being published by Liveright this May. The book is described thus:
A beguiling exploration of the joys of reading across boundaries, inspired by the author’s year-long journey through a book from every country.
Following an impulse to read more internationally, journalist Ann Morgan undertook first to define “the world” and then to find a story from each of 196 nations. Tireless in her quest and assisted by generous, far-flung strangers, Morgan discovered not only a treasury of world literature but also the keys to unlock it. Whether considering the difficulties faced by writers in developing nations, movingly illustrated by Burundian Marie-Thérese Toyi’s Weep Not, Refugee; tracing the use of local myths in the fantastically successful Samoan YA series Telesa; delving into questions of censorship and propaganda while sourcing a title from North Korea; or simply getting hold of The Corsair, the first Qatari novel to be translated into English, Morgan illuminates with wit, warmth, and insight how stories are written the world over and how place—geographical, historical, virtual—shapes the books we read and write.
Olivia Snaije interviewed Morgan for Publishing Perspectives in 2013.
PP: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced and some of the biggest surprises? Were there any preconceived notions that were shattered?
AM: Getting works in English from every country was a big challenge, as was finding the time to read and blog about four books a week. Luckily, the world’s book lovers were very generous with helping me research and find the titles I needed. A group of volunteer translators even translated a collection of short stories by a writer from Sao Tome and Principe (the book was called A casa do pastor by Olinda Beja) just so that I could have something to read from this tiny African island nation because there was nothing available in English.
I always knew that translation was going to be a challenge, but a big surprise was finding how many Francophone and Lusophone African countries have no literature available in English translation. I assumed that because French and Portuguese are widely spoken around the world it would be easy to find translations of books written in those languages, but there was very little. Can you believe, for example, that not a single novel from Madagascar is available in English? The country has well over 22 million people and yet people who speak only English can’t read any of its stories.
I think the most powerful thing about the experience as how it made the world real to me. Over the year, the list of countries that had felt rather distant and mysterious at the start of the year became vivid and characterful. I also made so many connections with readers and writers all over the world and was amazed at the generosity of the many people I’ve never met, who got behind the project, and the enthusiasm that people showed for the idea. It was a lesson that even in our conflict-riven world, people can come together across cultural boundaries and stories can play a big part in that.
PP: You’ve now finished the project—how many books did you actually read? And was it hard to finish—I imagine you get emails all the time with suggestions for books.
AM: I read 197 books—one from each UN recognized nation plus Taiwan and plus one extra territory voted for by blog readers. They chose The Man in Blue Pyjamasby Jalal Barzanji from Kurdistan.
It was a big challenge, but I kept on top of the reading by making sure I stuck to reading my required number of pages each day. I still get messages from people suggesting books. I hope that won’t stop — it’s lovely to hear from enthusiastic readers sharing stories they really care about.
You can read the full interview here.