Writer Ann Morgan’s Bookish Exploration of the Globe

As a way to understand more about the rest of the world, writer Ann Morgan read books from 196 countries and documented her journey.

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It’s impressive enough to know people who read 50 or 100 books a year (especially considering the dismal reading statistics from the United States), but how about a year-long quest to read one book from every country in the world?

Ann Morgan has just completed this one-year exploration of the world by reading a book from each of the 195 UN-recognized nations, plus Taiwan. What began, she writes for the BBC, as an “intellectual exercise” turned into sometime much more:

“One by one, the country names on the list that had begun as an intellectual exercise at the start of the year transformed into vital, vibrant places filled with laughter, love, anger, hope and fear. Lands that had once seemed exotic and remote became close and familiar to me — places I could identify with. At its best, I learned, fiction makes the world real.”

So how did she come up with her list of 196 books? She asked people! Morgan created a blog about her project, which began in early 2012, and then started asking people for book suggestions:

“The response was amazing. Before I knew it, people all over the planet were getting in touch with ideas and offers of help. Some posted me books from their home countries. Others did hours of research on my behalf.”

Morgan calculated that she would need to read one book every 1.87 days to finish in a single year. But, as her article explains, what took as much time as the actual reading was tracking down English translations of many books on her list. If it hadn’t been for the generosity of strangers — some  sent unpublished manuscripts, others translated short stories into English or even wrote something just for Morgan to read — Morgan’s project would not have been possible.

She is now working on a book about her adventure called Reading the World: Postcards from my Bookshelf, which she describes as “part memoir, part literary criticism.” It will be published by Harvill Secker in 2015.

How uplifting to know that there are so many passionate readers and writers out there, people who are so eager to share their culture that they will write and translate with no expectation of anything in return except a warm, fuzzy feeling.

On the other hand, it’s unfortunate that so little of the world’s literature is available in English. There are a number of dedicated publishers working to change that, and I hope that as more  translations are available, more readers will find new worlds opening up to them.

So congratulations to Ann Morgan for spending an entire year reading and discovering what the world’s writers have to offer.

Author: Hannah Johnson

When I first came to New York City, I almost ran over Liza Minelli with my suitcase. Then I got a job in book publishing.

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