In this TED Talk Video, Ann Morgan shared her year-long journey reading a book from every country in world. Impressive right? It was her realization that she was missing out on the large majority of our world’s stories that motivated her:
“Pretty much all the titles on [my bookshelves] were by British or North American authors, and there was almost nothing in translation. Discovering this massive, cultural blind spot in my reading came as quite a shock. And when I thought about it, it seemed like a real shame. I knew there had to be lots of amazing stories out there by writers working in languages other than English.”
I believe her predicament is one shared by most of us. Looking back at Literature classes in middle and high school, “the classics” consisted of primarily Western authors. Through these stories I experienced American and European life throughout the ages, but I almost never got a taste of life outside our English-speaking bubble. Even now, I tend to gravitate more towards what is easily available or popular here, which is almost always by a Western author (I’m currently reading Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, it’s pretty British).
Morgan recognizes that the literary industry does not make it easy to read our way throughout the world– in England, only about 4.5% of work published are in translation. Even the most voracious readers, those who’ve had a Barnes & Noble membership since birth and almost always check out the maximum amount at the library, may find a dismaying uniformity in the content of their bookshelves.
So, Morgan looked outside herself for some international recommendations. And although most of us lack a large and diverse online audience, we probably know a friend or a friend of a friend who can point us in the right direction.
It turns out, if you want to read the world, if you want to encounter it with an open mind, the world will help you.
Friends, fellow-readers, and even complete strangers took to Morgan’s plea for help; they eagerly procured and translated stories that Morgan could have never found on her own. And these stories, full of foreign ideas and places and values, took Morgan on a journey nearly as exciting and valuable as traveling the world itself. They expanded her views, took her outside of herself, and most importantly, told “the tale of the potential human beings have to work together.”
Although it pales in scope to Ann Morgan’s feat, I hope to join Jaci’s reading group within the Honors College next year, and through that, discover more foreign books for a more well-rounded literary repertoire.