Marco Werman: Take a look at your bookshelf. How many books by non-English language authors? British writer and journalist Ann Morgan put her bookshelves to the test a couple of years ago.
Ann Morgan: All the books on the bookshelves were by British or American writers. There really wasn't anything much else.
Werman: And that's when she decided to read one book from every nation in the world over a one year period, which she did. 197 books in all from as many independent countries and territories. We asked Morgan to tell us how she did it. She said she realized early on that she'd need help.
Morgan: So in late 2011, I registered the domain name ayearofreadingtheworld.com, and I wrote a very short piece asking the world's readers to help me find books, to tell me what I should be reading from their part of the world, or if their were any books that they had read that they particularly enjoyed. I didn't know what sort of response I would get. Maybe I would be on my own with this. Within four days of me launching the blog, I got a message from a woman called Rafida in Kuala Lumpur, and she said "I love your project. I love the idea of what you're trying to do, and I'd like to go to a book shop in Kuala Lumpur and choose you a book and post it to you to read as your choice from Malaysia." There people who went to all kinds of lengths to help me find books that weren't easy to get hold of. I was very lucky, for example, when I managed to get in touch with the Burundian writer Marie-Therese Toyi and someone who went to school with her told me that she had written a book in English, which I was really keen to get hold of because as far as I could find there were only books in French from Burundi. And, she amazingly couriered me a copy of her novel, Weep Not, Refugee, from Nigeria and sent me a message wishing me good luck in my quest. But, there were people who went even further than that. Julia Duany was one example. She is a writer in South Sudan. Now, South Sudan is the world's newest country. It only got going in July 2011, which was a handful of months before I started my crazy quest. And, it had come out of a massive civil war and had huge challenges to overcome. There weren't roads, there weren't hospitals, and I was pretty sure there weren't publishers really doing much work there. And she wrote me a story specially for my blog. And I launched the blog with her story, with her reading it. In fact, it was the enthusiasm of people and their interest in what I was doing that kept me going all through that year. Reading four books a week, or, as it worked out to, 1 book everyone 1.87 days, and writing blog posts, and then doing all the research to find the books and check out people's suggestions, was almost a full-time job, except that I was already working full-time. So, it actually was quite tough trying to fit it all in. Reading stories is an extraordinary experience. What it makes you realize when you read so many books from so many different places is the amazing power that literature has to take you out of yourself and to see the world through the eyes of other people. It taught me, in the words of a novel that I read from Qatar by a writer called Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud, a book called The Corsair, which is actually one of the first Qatari novels to make it into English, that you would think differently if this land were your land and if these people were your people.
Werman: Writer Ann Morgan telling us about her project, reading one book from every country in the world. Check out her reading list and watch a great time-lapse video of how her book collection grew over the course of the year-long project. That's all at pri.org.