Wednesday, August 16, 2017

WITMonth Day 16 | Reading the world challenge (part 1)

One of my favorite things that I've discovered since starting this blog and reading more international literature is Ann Morgan's A Year of Reading the World blog and project. The project was the first time I'd encountered anyone with the explicit goal of reading a book from every country in the world. While the project was significantly more ambitious than anything I could ever imagine for myself, I found myself enraptured both by Morgan's exploration of the world through literature, and her methodology. This was a clear, organized project.

It's been a few years since Morgan's project ended, but I often find myself thinking about it. Over the past several months, I have also begun seeing whether I can replicate it, this time only with women writers in translation. This is a significantly more difficult challenge: not only are there many countries from which no work by women has been translated, there are also quite a few countries on earth in which literature is almost exclusively written in English. 

But this doesn't mean the overall conceptual challenge is impossible. And thus the challenge I formed for myself began simply (presentation inspired by the Bechdel test):
  1. Read a written work from every country on Earth
  2. By a woman writer
  3. Originally written in a language other than English
You'll notice that I didn't say "fiction" or "literature". To be honest, my original intention was to focus on longform fiction, but I soon realized how utterly impossible that would be. Too many countries have only a handful of works coming out of them, fewer still by women. These works are often individual short stories or poems or essays, compiled in various anthologies or academic collections. I decided it would be silly to omit those, simply because they were not of enough "mass". 

As I progressed in my research, I also realized that I wanted these other works. I want to read Angolan poetry. I want to read Brazilian queer feminist critiques. I want to read Tibetan memoirs. I want to read whatever the too-often underrepresented women of the world have to tell me, whatever it may be. All the complexities of the world that are wrapped up in this.

This led to another question: Shouldn't I be seeking out as many languages too? And so the project expanded somewhat there, as well. I began searching for as many works from as many different languages, within these countries (as well as including indigenous languages in various English speaking countries). This subproject has proven significantly more difficult than I had imagined, but I'm not giving up. Unlike Morgan, I'm not even going to try to read these works within a year... perhaps not even a decade. This is a lifelong project, with the simple goal of reading as widely and as fully as I can.

I don't know if other readers will want to join me on this project. It won't be simple, certainly, but it also won't be singular. I've been working on compiling my own personal reading list for several months now, but the truth is that it's just one (very limited!) list. Many countries are still missing (though it is possible that I've simply overlooked certain works!), and even more languages are absent. The list itself is still incomplete; as of writing this post, I have only collected titles through "Pakistan". Some countries have multiple titles, others have only one. I hope that this list will grow with time, and I hope that once I start sharing it with you all (soon!), you may add your own voices - books that are missing, books that perhaps aren't all that, and authors that you believe should be translated so that they may appear on these lists in the future.

This project will take many, many years. I'm so excited.

3 comments:

  1. A lifelong project indeed! Take your time - better be thorough than quick and superficial. I love the idea and may try to emulate you as well.

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  2. A friend and I started a world reading challenge (project) this year; please feel free to drop by and give recommendations. We're planning to have badges! (But she moved countries and has been a little busy.) We are certainly not trying to do it in a year like Morgan, though. http://howlingfrog.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_28.html

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  3. During my still on-going quest to read the world I came across an anthology of pan-caribbean women writers (including the amazing Maryse Condé). The stories have been translated into English from French, Spanish, Creol, and some are originally in English. The book's called 'Green Cane and Juicy Flotsam'. If you want, I can mail it to you. You can get in touch via twitter @teacherkristina.

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