What does your bookshelf say about you?
When Ann Morgan, a journalist and author in the UK, studied her bookshelf, she was surprised by what she found, and more importantly, what she didn’t – and the results inspired her to embark on a unique yearlong reading challenge.
"I looked at my bookshelves after someone made a comment making me think about my reading habits,” she told Public Radio International’s “The World.” And I suddenly realized that all the books on the bookshelves were by British or American writers. There really wasn't much else. A few Australian writers maybe, a couple of Indian novels, but nothing else really," she says.
And that is how she embarked on a yearlong project to read her way around the globe by reading a book from every country.
That’s 197 books in one year. Which works out to about four books per week or one book every 1.87 days. And that’s after the challenge of finding a book to represent every country.
Overwhelmed with the task ahead and not knowing where to begin, Morgan started a blog in 2011, AYearOfReadingtheWorld.com, asking readers to help her find books from all corners of the globe.
Responses poured in from everywhere from Malaysia and Burundi to even South Sudan, then the world’s newest country.
“It had come out of a massive civil war and had huge challenges to overcome. There weren't roads, there weren't hospitals, and I was pretty sure there weren't publishers really doing much work there,” Morgan tells PRI.
Still, a writer from South Sudan, Julia Duany, wrote a story just for Morgan and her reading project.
Morgan also received book recommendations from blog readers in Rwanda (Philip Gourevitch’s “We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families”), the Seychelles (Glynn Burridge’s “Voices”), Yemen (Wajdi al-Ahdal’s “A Land without Jasmine”), Liechtenstein (CC Bergius’s “The Noble Forger”), Lesotho (Thomas Mofolo’s “Chaka”), Kyrgyzstan (Chinghiz Aitmatov’s “Jamilia”), Cape Verde (Germano Almeida’s “The Last Will & Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo), Dijibouti (Abdourahman Waberi’s “In the United States of Africa”), and Vatican City (Luigi Marinello & The Millenari’s “Shroud of Secrecy,” or “Gone with the Wind in the Vatican”), among scores of others.
And while the challenge may have a whiff of stuntsmanship, we think there’s a deeper purpose behind Morgan’s endeavor, one that should inspire all of us to broaden our own libraries. Books introduce readers to new worlds and different perspectives – and if the teller of our stories come largely from one part of the world, we miss out on the myriad points of view of writers around the globe.
As Morgan said, reading books from different countries forced her to “see the world through the eyes of other people.”
Quoting “The Corsair,” a Qatari novel by writer Abdul Aziz al Mahmoud, Morgan tells PRI, “You would think differently if this land were your land and these people were your people.”
For your own literary trip around the world, check out Morgan’s book list here.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.