Ten years of reading the world

Exactly ten years ago I was preparing to set out on what would turn out to be a lifechanging quest: spending 2012 trying to read a book from every country in the world. The bookshelf in the living room in my small south London flat was clear, ready to receive the first of the 144 hard copies and manuscripts, and 53 ebooks I would make my way through that year.

By this stage, I already had suggestions for books from around 110 countries and a sense of some of the challenges my project would entail. I had already been amazed by the enthusiasm the idea had been met with, prompting strangers around the globe to send me recommendations, advice, books and words of encouragement. However, as this short recording by producer Chris Elcombe showed, I had no concept of what was about to happen to me.

As I waited to open the first page, I knew nothing then of how the extraordinary books I encountered would change my thinking, enlarge my perspective and teach me to reimagine not only my world but also myself. I had no clue that this project contained the seeds of my first book, Reading the World, and that the lessons it taught me would unlock my dream of becoming a published novelist. I couldn’t imagine that this eccentric personal quest would lead to speaking invitations and media appearances all over the planet, TEDx and TED talks, hundreds of connections and friendships, and a steady trickle of messages from curious readers. And I was ignorant of the fact that, far from a year-long experiment, A Year of Reading the World would become a lifelong endeavour.

A decade on, this project continues to challenge, enrich and change my life and writing. This year, I was thrilled to take up the role of Literary Explorer in Residence at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, where I launched my Incomprehension Workshop for adventurous readers. I’m offering free places on a virtual version in 2022 – there’s still time to apply if you’re interested in trying it out.

Next year brings some more exciting developments. I’m not able to talk about them yet, but as soon as I can, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, as 2021 ticks through its final 100 hours, I look back on the past decade with gratitude and wonder. The world can be a dark place at times and the last couple of years have been especially challenging. Yet our love of storytelling and the power it has to connect us – made so stunningly clear to me back in 2012 – remain undimmed.

Thanks to everyone who has made this quest what it is. Thanks for writing. Thanks for reading. May 2022 bring us all some excellent stories.

4 responses

  1. Hi Ann,

    I would love to try your virtual Incomprehension Workshop! When I retired, I gave myself the title “Literary Rambler” and began traveling, selecting books tied to travel locations. My travels did not take me to every country in the world however, and I have been interested in and inspired by your “Ten years of reading the world.”

    My only concern is if I will be able to find the readings in my local (or accessible) library.

    Thanks for your consideration! ~Diana


  2. Hi Ann,

    I saw that you’re offering the Incomprehension workshop, I might be late on this but I wanted to drop a line still! I love to read and I love your idea of reading the world, but most of the time I’ve found I end up reading your emails instead of the actual books. I love to learn but struggle to put things into action many times, but the thing I love about reading is the perspective it gives. The idea behind your workshop sounds really intriguing and a really cool way to open up and just be more receptive to lessons and new ideas from other cultures. If there’s still space I’d be excited to join, and if not I’ll continue to read your emails and maybe join another time! Happy new year, your ten years of reading the world is so amazing!

    Be well,

    Elizabeth Perera

    Behind every motion is the music of our souls. -BL


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