Around the World in 196 Books

Taj Mahal, blog

“Every day we should hear at least one little song, read one good poem, see one exquisite picture, and, if possible, speak a few sensible words.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

For once, I’m going to intrude a little Real World info into a virtual-world blog, other than a tribute, biography or obituary.  Why so?  Well, because Second Life is as much influenced by the Real World as sheer imagination; after all, something helps inspire our imagination at some point or another, be it a song, a movie, a photo, a painting or a book.  Anyone who helps spread the importance of Spreading Ideas and Thoughts, and any good vehicles that do so, are high on the list of this Bachelor of Arts in Humanities, your humble servant1.

Ann Morgan, along with just some of the books she read in her project.  Photo by Darren Russell, via BBC Culture Web site

Ann Morgan, along with just some of the books she read in her project. Photo by Darren Russell, via BBC Culture Web site

While cruising through the BBC Web site this morning, I came across this link to a Culture article that demonstrates how important the examination of different thoughts and ideas can be.  The piece was written by its main actor, Ann Morgan, a British writer.  Ann set herself a task for the year 2012 somewhat similar to Julie Powell’s famous personal goal in cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year:  Ann planned to read one book or story from every country in the world (recognized by the United Nations, at least) within the year.  It was not an easy task, mostly for two large reasons — the books had to be in English, and she had to be able to find them.  She obtained a huge amount of help from volunteers discovered via the blog she wrote to document her goal, including some translation work done for her on spec and getting manuscript copies of unpublished translations from authors themselves.

As Morgan notes in her article, the wonder of the world began to emerge before her.  She saw others’ countries and cultures not through a glass as a tourist, but through the eyes of the people that lived in those countries.  Reading about a place in a travelogue or a geography gives you a recitation.  The authors of Ann’s books held a far different perspective, personal and truly “qualified,” if that is the proper word, and helped both broaden and deepen her views, her understanding, of a place and a people far more than simple “study.”

I’m a bookseller at a big-box chain, as my in-world friends know, and reading of almost any kind I’ll encourage every day, not only because it keeps me paid, but because it’s just plan good for you.  But most of the books we offer are American and British works, and rather foster a somewhat monolithic cultural view.  Even the independent bookstores focus mainly on easy-to-obtain titles, simply because they are easy to obtain in English — it’s frightening how few people in the English-speaking countries are more than monolingual — and fit into popular genres and trends that sell.  There is probably only a relative handful of book stores that routinely deal in a more international trade.

Truly it’s said that, to understand someone, you must walk a mile in their moccasins.  It was difficult to do, but Ann Morgan pulled it off.  You don’t need to read a book from every country in the world; but try breaking out of the familiar grooves once in a while, and check out something good from a country you’re not familiar with.  As you struggle to understand the place, maybe look up information to supplement the more intimate view of the author, you’ll find yourself growing in understanding, just as Morgan did.  Give it try some time!

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1 Hail the Liberal Arts!  May the light of their flame never be extinguished in the rush of technology and specialization.

The Seven Liberal Arts -- stained glass window from the organ loft of the Knowles Memorial Chapel, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida

The Seven Liberal Arts — Grammar, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Rhetoric, Music and Astronomy — surrounding Wisdom enthroned.  Stained glass window from the organ loft of the Knowles Memorial Chapel, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida

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Posted July 17, 2013 by Harper Ganesvoort in Arts, Literature, Real Life

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