Arts and Culture

This woman spent a year reading a book from every country in the world. What did she learn?

A woman reads a book at her open air book store in Skopje April 24, 2014.

Image: REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
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In 2012, author Ann Morgan set herself a very ambitious target. She wanted to read a book from every country, in just one year.

One-hundred and ninety-six books later, she’s written a book and done a TED Talk on her experience. She’s also created a series of interactive maps charting everything she read.

“It’s amazing the breadth of perspective you get,” she said.

‘An intensive course of global reading’

Looking at her bookshelves, Morgan was saddened to see they were dominated by British and North American authors. So, as she explains in her TED Talk, she prescribed herself ‘an intensive course of global reading’.

The challenge was enormous. Reading an average of about four books a week, while also working full-time, was just the first hurdle. Finding an English-translation from every country was also very tricky – just 4.5% of works published in the UK each year are translations.

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The power of the internet

She posted an appeal online, and was staggered by the response. From all over the world, people began recommending – and indeed sending her – books. “It turns out, if you want to read the world, if you want to encounter it with an open mind, the world will help you,” she explains.

Towards the end of 2012, however, she got stuck. Having spent months trying to find an English translation of a work from São Tomé and Príncipe – the Portuguese-speaking African island nation – she was left with no choice but to commission a translation. She was doubtful whether anyone would be able to help with this.

But, within days of a Twitter and Facebook appeal, she had nine Portuguese-speaking volunteers all willing to devote their time and effort to translating a book for her. Six-weeks later, she had a collection of short stories to read.

She highlights the role that the internet played in making her goal a reality. “It’s testament to the extraordinary times we live in,” she said. “Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever before for a stranger to share a story, a worldview, a book with someone she may never meet.”

Mapping the world’s books

Morgan has created an interactive map, showing the book she read for every country. The map also includes a teaser on each one.

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She hopes others will use the maps to chart their own experiences. For her, the experiment has broadened her understanding of the world. “Cumulatively, the stories I read that year made me more alive than ever before to the richness, diversity and complexity of our remarkable planet," she said.

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