11 May 2015

The World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan

Summary from Goodreads:
A beguiling exploration of the joys of reading across boundaries, inspired by the author's year-long journey through a book from every country.

Following an impulse to read more internationally, journalist Ann Morgan undertook first to define "the world" and then to find a story from each of 196 nations. Tireless in her quest and assisted by generous, far-flung strangers, Morgan discovered not only a treasury of world literature but also the keys to unlock it. Whether considering the difficulties faced by writers in developing nations, movingly illustrated by Burundian Marie-Thérese Toyi's Weep Not, Refugee; tracing the use of local myths in the fantastically successful Samoan YA series Telesa; delving into questions of censorship and propaganda while sourcing a title from North Korea; or simply getting hold of The Corsair, the first Qatari novel to be translated into English, Morgan illuminates with wit, warmth, and insight how stories are written the world over and how place-geographical, historical, virtual-shapes the books we read and write.

Some time in late-2012 I stumbled across a blog titled A Year of Reading the World.  This very nice lady, Ann Morgan, was apparently wrapping up a year-long blog project wherein she read a book from every country in the world.  Plus a territory chosen by poll from her readers.  197 books in all.

197 books, one from each country.  Translated into English.  (2012, for me, was the year I read 192 books, mostly romance novels because my mother was undergoing treatment for cancer and I couldn't handle much else.  So Ann's project caught me attention simply for her level of ambition - I have blog projects, but I am absolutely the worst at reading to list or schedule or timetable.)  As 2013 rolled in, I backed up to the beginning of Ann's blog and read it all from the beginning.  Not only did she find some really interesting books to read she also had a fair amount of trouble getting books to read from more countries than I would have guessed.  Ann's experience led me to check and see how much in-translation work I read....which, like my percentage of POC authors, was pretty terrible.  And then Ann announced she'd been offered a book deal based on her blog....


(Full disclosure: once I found out that Norton's Liveright imprint was going to publish the US edition I begged a galley off them.  I have no regrets.)

The US title of Ann's book is The World Between Two Covers and if you thought it was going to be a potted, bound version of the blog you're going to be disappointed.  What the book turned out to be is a very well-written examination of why the Anglophone (specifically UK via Ann's experience and US by extension) reading population and publishing arm reads little world literature, particularly in translation.  At best estimate approximately only 3% of non-Anglophone world literature is translated and published in English.  Only 3%.  That's terrible.

Ann touched briefly on many translation or publication issues on her blog but the book allows her to expand her topics in a very accessibly way.  There are a number of roadblocks one encounters when trying to find and read literature by authors (and, by extension, purchase legally) from, say, Burkina Faso or Nepal or Kuwait or Monaco or Lichtenstein.  New countries may not have a strong press or literature tradition (or even a written tradition as we define it in Western literature, as Ann found with some island nations).  Some authors turn increasingly to the ebook self-publishing industry for publication and access to readers, some are fleetingly available through small specialty presses. A huge list of books to read can be derived from Ann's work both in the actual 197 books she read in 2012 and the books she references in mulling over her experience.  The World Between Two Covers will make you think and grow your TBR list by leaps and bounds - which is exactly what happened to me.  You can also watch me natter on about this in two videos - I talk about the book and then about some recommendations for literature in translation.

And I made a display at the store because, ugh, so much good stuff to read.

Recommendation: buy this sucker and read the heck out of it, pen in hand.

Dear FTC: I requested an ARC from the publisher, nearly read the cover off, and had to buy a nice, clean copy for my shelf.

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