Understanding the World Through Literature: A Quest We Should All Undertake

Recently, I was watching TEDTalks (for those that don’t know, the popular YouTube channel in which anything and everything is discussed. I was fortunate enough to attend a Local TEDTalks in Tucson last year) when I came across something that really inspired me. Don’t get me wrong, nearly all the speakers inspire or ignite some kind of awe in me whenever I watch their videos, but this one seemed to speak to me on a more personal level. It was titled ‘My Year Reading a Book from Every Country in the World’, hosted by speaker Ann Morgan. Being a literature student and an avid reader (aiming to get through at least one book a week), the talk really hit a nerve, and made me question just how varied my own reading choices are.

Ann Morgan highlighted the obvious problem with today’s modern world readers: that nearly all books consumed are by writers in developed countries, mainly the UK and the USA. Now, I’m an American Literature student, so take pride in trying to read as much of the diverse American literature that I can get my hands on, but I had to admit that Morgan had a point. Following this, she undertook a mission to read a book from every single country in the world. Of course, some books were easier to obtain – namely those from European countries. However, she spoke of the struggle of trying to track down English-translated copies from poorer parts of the world, places where their literature had previously never been translated into another language. Nevertheless, her stamina and ambition to finish what she started is inspiring, and she even contacted local translators when this problem arose.

I won’t say too much else about the video, as I believe it really is worth a watch and something you should muster your own conclusions on, but I will say this: The comments on the YouTube were surprisingly critical, saying that Morgan could not possibly learn about an entire country through one book, that she picked the wrong piece of literature, etc. It seemed that people set out to challenge her efforts to simply expand her readings and give other world literatures a place in her bookshelf. Sure, she cannot learn everything about a place from one 500 or so page book, but is it not commendable that she is even attempting to delve into the unsung chapter of ‘foreign’ literature – that is, literature published outside the usual North American/British spectrum? Personally, Ann Morgan’s challenge is something that I have always wanted to undertake, as I truly believe a piece of literature can shape your understanding and identity in one way or another. It is true that other countries are not given full recognition for their works, whilst English-speaking writers thrive worldwide. We would certainly all benefit (and contribute to the global book market) by picking up say a Filipino, South African, or Argentinian novel and connecting ourselves more so with the global community.


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