Ann Morgan's year reading a book from every country in the world {#TEDTalks every book bloger should watch}

I track down TED Talks that would be of special interest to the book blogging community ... and they become a jumping board for personal musings, including yours!

It's been a while since I last posted anything for TED Talks  Every Book Blogger Should Watch. I remember we were in the thick of the Travel the World in Books Readathon and someone tweeted this video out. (Was it you? remind me, as I'd love to say thank you!)

The concept is simple: Ann wanted to read one book for every country in the world, all 196 of them! I was very much inspired by Ann Morgan's project. It reinforces my belief that I was taking on a wonderful personal goal of reading stories around the world, written by authors from around the world.

This talk is about 12 minutes and every minute is worth it! I suggest watching through the entire video before coming back to my musings below.

Ann Morgan (AM) at approx. 0:12: It's often said that you can tell a lot about a person by looking at what's on their bookshelves. What do my bookshelves say about me? [..] I made an alarming discovery. [..] Pretty much all the titles on them were by British or North American authors, and there was almost nothing in translation. Discovering this massive, cultural blind spot in my reading came as quite a shock. 

I had a similar wake-up call when I joined in Filipino Friday and was asked if I read Filipino literature. The embarrassing thing is I am Filipino and I could count the number of books read on one hand ... yet I've probably read hundreds of books by North American authors.

Expanding this to the globe, my bookshelf is pretty much the same as Ann's. Go take a peek at your bookshelf and do a quick assessment. It's pretty sobering.

AM at approx. 2:08: I then had to face up to the fact that I might even not be able to get books in English from every country. Only around 4.5 percent of the literary works published each year in the UK are translations, and the figures are similar for much of the English-speaking world.

Again a sobering fact. Even if we endeavored to undertake a similar project like Ann's, most of us would be constrained by the unavailability of the very books we seek out. By default, our reading is already skewed by the biases of the publishing world.

When I started trying to get more Filipino-authored books into my TBR, I remember going on my usual online book stores and realized that they were hard to find or were sold at exorbitant prices (I'm currently based in Canada, I was not willing to spend $30-40 on one book). I actually had to wait for a trip back to the Philippines to buy up a few titles I wanted. (And these are ones written in English!)

AM at approx. 3:54: I was going to have to ask for help. [..] I posted a short appeal online. I explained who I was, how narrow my reading had been, and I asked anyone who cared to to leave a message suggesting what I might read from other parts of the planet. Now, I had no idea whether anyone would be interested, but within a few hours of me posting that appeal online, people started to get in touch. At first, it was friends and colleagues. Then it was friends of friends. And pretty soon, it was strangers.

[..] From Sweden to Palau, writers and translators sent me self-published books and unpublished manuscripts of books that hadn't been picked up by Anglophone publishers or that were no longer available, giving me privileged glimpses of some remarkable imaginary worlds.

I'm honestly not surprised that people went out of their way to help Ann out. I always knew that the reading community is an amazing bunch of people!

AM at 9:24: The books I read that year opened my eyes to many things. As those who enjoy reading will know, books have an extraordinary power to take you out of yourself and into someone else's mindset, so that, for a while at least, you look at the world through different eyes. That can be an uncomfortable experience, particularly if you're reading a book from a culture that may have quite different values to your own. But it can also be really enlightening. Wrestling with unfamiliar ideas can help clarify your own thinking. And it can also show up blind spots in the way you might have been looking at the world.

Amen. These are the very reasons I love to read!

AM at approx. 11:25: If we all read more widely, there'd be more incentive for publishers to translate more books, and we would all be richer for that.

Love that this as become a rallying cry! I'm itching to know whether this project has made an impact on books in translation!

Inspired? Would you take on a project like this? 


(I am not affiliated in any way with TED Talks. Photo for header: unsplash, TED logo from

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall