Several years ago, writer Ann Morgan noticed that she didn’t read much literature from countries outside of the United Kingdom and United States — and had yet to dive into stories from around the globe. From this realization, her blog, A Year of Reading the World, was born. You can read about Ann’s journey in her new book, Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer, available now in the UK. (The US version, The World Between Two Covers, will be released on May 4.)
I chatted with Ann about the blog-to-book journey and her experience of reading and blogging about literature from 197 countries.
For readers new to A Year of Reading the World, can you talk about your original project — and how the blog came about?
A comment someone left on a blog I wrote four years back, A Year of Reading Women, got me thinking about how little literature I read from countries other than the UK and US. The more I thought about it, the stranger it seemed that I would limit myself to such a small proportion of the world’s stories. The next year, 2012, was set to be a very international one for the UK, with the Olympics coming to London and plans for big celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, so I decided to spend it trying to read a novel, short story collection, or memoir from every UN-recognized country (plus a couple of extras) and blogging about each book.
As I didn’t know what to choose or how to find books from some places, I asked the world’s book lovers to offer suggestions. I registered the domain name ayearofreadingtheworld.com, set up the blog on WordPress.com, and put a call out on social media. Before long, I was inundated with recommendations and other offers of help.
Reading your way through nearly 200 countries requires discipline! How did you stay motivated as a blogger?
It wasn’t easy. I had to be very organized. I calculated how much I needed to get through each day (around 150 pages to stay on track to read four books a week), and made sure I stuck to it. This meant reading for two hours on my commute and an hour or two in the evening. I sometimes read during my lunch break, too. And on Saturdays I spent the mornings in bed with a book. I got very good at reading at odd moments — while walking along the road and going up escalators, for example, and on the exercise bike at the gym.
Reading was only half the battle — writing the blog posts and doing all the research to find the books took as much time, so I got up early to work on this before I left for work.
For all the hard work, though, it was a lot of fun. The generosity and enthusiasm of my blog’s followers around the world helped me source titles. Readers posted kind comments every day, and this kept me going and cheered me across the finish line.
How did your book deal come about?
When I started the project, I had no clue it would lead to a book. But three or four months into the year, media interest was starting to build with the Olympics approaching, so several people suggested that a book might be a good idea. I’d always wanted to be an author, so I put together a short book proposal and sent it to a handful of literary agents.
Several were interested in it, but one in particular — Caroline Hardman at Hardman & Swainson — seemed to look at the project the same way I did. We also got on well personally, which was a bonus.
After I’d signed with Caroline, I spent the next few months shaping the book proposal and writing sample chapters (and, yes, I was still reading the world and earning money to pay the bills during this time!). Caroline sent the proposal out in September 2012 and within half an hour an email came from my editor, Michal Shavit at Harvill Secker/Random House, making an offer for the book.
What about the blog-to-book process? Did much of your post content end up in the book?
I spent about a year-and-a-half, on and off, writing and rewriting after I got the deal. In the end, none of the material from the blog made it into the book. In fact, only a few paragraphs from the sample chapters are in there.
The main challenge was finding the right form for the book. I remember a meeting where Michal told me that I needed to let go of the blog, and she was right. There would have been no point giving a blow-by-blow account of the year because that already existed on the blog. I needed to find a way of taking the insights that quest gave me and shaping them into something new.
In the end, the book became a space for exploring the big questions that arose during my adventure. There were issues like cultural identity, translation, censorship, and how the internet shapes our reading that I didn’t have a chance to consider in depth on the blog, but was really interested to research more thoroughly.
I love both the UK and US covers of your book. Beyond the cover art, is there a difference in these versions?
Thanks! No. Although they look very different, they are actually the same book. The UK title was too close to something else Liveright/Norton — my US publisher — publishes, but apart from this, my US editor, Elisabeth Kerr, was very keen to keep the text exactly as it had been in the original.
With your Book of the Month posts, you’ve kept your blog alive, post-project. Do you have other plans for the blog, post-book release?
The coming year looks very exciting with lots of invitations to travel, speak at events, and take part in reading-related initiatives. I plan to record my experiences on the blog and take the many people who’ve supported the project for such a long time — and the new subscribers who sign up every day — along for the ride. Now and then, if there’s a book-related issue that I have something to say about, I’ll write about it on the blog, too.
I still get a lot of recommendations for new books from blog visitors, so I’m still updating the list and will carry on doing that. And of course the Book of the Month posts will continue. It’s hard to know what the future holds, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading the world in one way or another for a long time to come.
Read what’s new on Ann’s blog, A Year of Reading the World. You’ll find Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer (UK version, available now) and The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe (US version, available on May 4) on Amazon.
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