Ann Morgan’s journey around the world through literature wasn’t one of my chosen reads for this challenge, but when I saw it had been released I thought that I couldn’t do a world reading challenge and not read it.
I was hooked from the first chapter when Morgan described looking at her bookcase and described the lack of diversity there as “comparable to one of those people who orders chips in Chinese restaurants.” I consider myself to be fairly well read but, and this is not through any conscious decision on my part, the books I read are mostly Western and those by writers from other parts of the world are often told from a Western perspective. The sad truth is that we only get to see what is published for us:
“You and I are limited in what we can access, hemmed in by walls of works written by writers raised on and sustained by the same relatively small pool of ideas, stories and assumptions.”
Fortunately Morgan lets us off the hook in not being more diverse in our reading matter; although she managed to read a huge range of books for her challenge she found it very difficult to source books in English from quite a few countries and on one occasion had something translated specifically for her.
There are many difficulties in ‘reading the world’, and Morgan examines quite a few of these in this book. There is the problem of the reliability of translations – what exactly makes a translation ‘true’ to the original? And can all stories be translated? Much like travelling, readers can encounter culture shock, hostility, political turmoil and censorship on their literary travels. So the rest of us can be forgiven, perhaps, for not taking the road less traveled.
This book was a thoughtful look at how many challenges a reader faces in trying to read world literature, but a reminder that we should try anyway. Interspersed with Morgan’s reflections are some of the stories behind the books she read, which I would have loved to see more of. Sadly, Morgan’s choice of author for Brunei was one of only two ‘bad’ novels that she encountered on her travels so I won’t be giving that one a go. But perhaps it’s the spur I need to search for some ‘authentic’ Bruneian literature while I’m in the country if, as Morgan argues, such a thing exists.
I found this to be a thought-provoking read and one that has made me think carefully about how I can broaden my reading habits. Hopefully it’s something that publishers will pick up on so we can see more world literature out there for us to access. In the meantime I will be looking back at Morgan’s blog to find some recommendations, and I would love to hear from anyone else who has any suggestions for works in translation…