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Reading the world (biblioglobes and more….)

12th June 2015

Reading the World by Ann Morgan. An anthology of world literature, (and some other musings).

“As readers, we don’t travel. In fact for many of us that’s precisely the point: we open books to experience ideas and places that we don’t have the budget, time or stomach to go through in real life”


Book set against an article in Red Magazine

Ann Morgan set herself the challenge of reading a book from every country in the world. What a task that turned out to be! As her researches got underway in 2011, the remit gradually became expansive, and at times unwieldy, with many futile and frustrating dead ends. Even the basic premise of identifying the countries that she was going to feature was far from simple: as a starting point, would it be the 195 sovereign states named by the UN?  But what of Taiwan making it 196, or indeed Palestine or Kosovo (and what of Kurdistan?). Creating the definitive country list was no simple matter. Indeed, would she use the yardstick defined by UN recognition or was it to be something different? The final list eventually settled at 196 (ish) and is entitled “The 196 (…and Kurdistan)”.

The very first book that was flagged for  the author was Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (set in Perth, Australia), which features on our Pinterest Board “Top Travel Books (ever?)” A really excellent choice. But that was only the start of her biblioglobic adventure (the word bibliogobe exists according to the author, the adjective I made up!).

This is a scholarly exploration of the publishing industry, geography and what is meant by indigineity. It often meanders into philosophical musings on the plight of authors, and specifically the huge hurdles encountered by non Anglophone writers. If English is not your first language, how do you get your books out there amongst the reading public? Translated works, she cites, according to a 2013 survey by Literature Across Frontiers, amounted to 4.37% of literary works published in the UK and Ireland in 2008. That is a minuscule proportion of the published oeuvre.

How did she come to set herself this challenge, you may wonder? A seminal moment came early on Valentine’s Day 1989. Ayatollah Khomeini imposed a Fatwa on Salman Rushdie and when Ann eventually found a copy of The Satanic Verses at the tender age of 11, she avidly sat down to read it; but discovered she was way in over her head. It nevertheless sowed a seed for championing the written word, which she goes on to explore in this book. Freedom to write and be published is integral to her core thinking and belief.

The obstacles to finding the definitive reading list were legion. She cites China as clamping down on free expression, thus limiting the books available to her. Essentially, in actual fact, she feels “that nowhere is censorship free“. Finding something suitable for North Korea, where censorship is, of course, fundamental to the preservation of the regime, was a journey in itself. Identifying fiction that wasn’t tainted with politics and history, the workpiece of the government, was a mammoth task. Or finding herself confronted with the intricacies of the Ghorkaland question (a proposed state in India in the Darjeeling Hills) – another facet of Weltpolitik to consider…. and so it went on.

She also addresses the issue of translation and the incredible task of the translator to capture and then convey any given text with a deftness that comes only with experience. The complexities of the translator’s job can be manifold. Take the simple task of conveying ‘snow’ to someone who has never experienced it, nor is it in their vocabulary – Tété-Michel Kpomassie returned to Togo having lived in Greenland but in his native language Mina, there is no word. Overall, credits to translators are few and far between, which is a real oversight (we interviewed three top translators in a previous blogpost and you can access their stories here).

Ploughing through 200 odd books is a mammoth task, and not only did she focus on her own task but she digresses into what it means to be self published, the vagaries of the publishing industry and the phenomenon that is the internet today and what effect that has across the book board. She shares amazing facts with her readers – that 500 new British and Irish Books arrive at the Cambridge University Library EVERY DAY; or that Vatican City has the only ATM with instructions in Latin….

“From the faceless register of place names page by page, these regions ceased to be mysterious blanks or dead bundles of facts and figures and became living, breathing entities, as if their stories had made them real.” Gradually it seems she felt she was becoming part of the global community rather than a mere observer of other cultures.

You can read more about her “companions for a year” on her blog. She is also active on Twitter.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

An excellent blog to further explore books that enable us to get under the skin of countries around the world is A Year of Reading Dangerously. Enjoy!

Do drop by and connect with the Team at TripFiction via social media: TwitterFacebook and Pinterest and when we have some interesting photos we can be found over on Instagram too.



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  1. User: Shriya

    Posted on: 16/06/2015 at 7:29 pm

    Love Anns blog such an inspiration to read globally


  2. User: aditi3991

    Posted on: 15/06/2015 at 10:56 am

    Sounds interesting! 🙂