In my last post, I discussed why I think we all (or at least me in particular) live, read, and write: to develop mutual understanding with other people. I’m someone who has often felt alienated, and I think many people go through their lives feeling misunderstood and not understanding other people. Reading and writing provide us with tools for examining the lives of others, putting on their skin and walking around for a while. I called reading, writing, and living with this goal in mind The Human Project.
To better achieve The Human Project, I argued that readers, especially writers, should be reading books in translation if they can only read in one language. Those who read in multiple languages should continue to read in multiple languages and also read in translation. At its most basic, I said that this reading practice would build tolerance and help us understand others, especially those that live differently than we do and have experienced different pain.
Aside from the human element of this, reading fiction from around the world will make better fiction. This is because 1. Different places have different literary history and literary traditions, 2. Certain subject matter is discussed more in different places 3. Languages have different rhythm patterns 4. The more disparate techniques a writer is aware of, the more techniques they have to draw from. If our goal as writers is to tackle some of those big questions about human existence in an honest, real way, opening ourselves up to other methods instead of just looking at the same old tricks and patterns can only have a positive impact on our art.
I know I’m laying all this out as a reading program as if I know everything about reading, but really I’m doing this to address my own failures. I read a lot but definitely could read more, and there are huge gaps in my reading, especially when you consider that people write all over the world. Since I went to school in North America, my reading has been fairly centred on Canadian and American writers. I was lucky that at York University, my professors tried to include relatively diverse course texts and my professors in the undergraduate creative writing program always gave me piles of books to read.
Even what little literature from different places in the world I’ve read reflects my biases and limited life experience (I’m still in my twenties). For instance, I was drawn to German and French existentialism in high school, but the secular existentialist worldview was something that already aligned with a worldview I was brought up with. I read a bit of Caribbean literature while completing my graduate studies, but grew up with an uncle from Jamaica, was interested in Jamaican music and history as a teen, and lived away from home for the first time by renting a room from a Jamaican family in Burlington, Ontario. I think we begin by reading what feels familiar to us, and then we need to start branching out and building on what’s familiar with new experience gained through reading.
Different Ways To Read Around the World
There isn’t one way to Read Around the World. This reading program essentially means that you read everything. Just like living, where we are in pursuit of unanswerable questions like what is death, the reading program is done correctly can never be completed.
By Time Period
Work your way meticulously through different places according to year/decade. I think this would be particularly interesting because it would reflect everything that was happening around the world at a particular time.
I think this is probably the easiest way to tackle the project and could be comforting for the more obsessively-minded among us. I think I would end up getting a little bored if I was restricted by region.
By Diaspora and Cultural Influence
What’s interesting about cultures and their respective art is that they are migratory. As people move, their culture and art comes with them. As people visit one space, they rub up against other forms of art and expression and apply it to their own work. I think this would be the most interesting way to approach the project, as you’d be able to see a domino effect as certain world events spurred emigration.
Literary Movements often occur around the world at the same time. We already categorize literature in this way, which might make it an easy way to approach the project, especially if you’re relying on your local or university library for books. The problem with this method is that several regions might not have work that fits these categories or that often there is great literature and art that doesn’t neatly fit into a movement. If you’re using literary movements as you basis, I’d recommend supplementing with either the time or region method to make sure you’re not missing out.
Resources To Help You Get Started
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Jess Taylor is a writer and poet based in Toronto, Ontario. She is the host and founder of the Emerging Writers Reading Series and is the fiction editor of Little Brother Magazine. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, magazines, and newspapers, including Little Fiction, Little Brother, This Magazine, The National Post, Emerge Literary Journal, Great Lakes Review, Zouch Magazine, and offSIDE Zine. Her pamphlet chapbook, And Then Everyone, was released by Picture Window Press in the spring of 2014. In October 2014, Anstruther Press released her first full-length chapbook, Never Stop. Recently, she was named “one of the best alt- lit reads coming out of Canada” by Dazed and Confused Magazine. She also received the Gold 2013 National Magazine Award in Fiction for her short story, “Paul.” Pauls is her first book (BookThug). Connect with Taylor at www.jesstaywriter.com, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jesstaywriter), on Twitter @jesstaylorwriter, or on Tumblr (www.jesstaywriter.tumblr.com).