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A reader’s delight
By ARSHIAH PARWEEN December 10, 2016
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Arshiah Parween gets candid with British author Ann Morgan during the recently concluded Knowledge Summit 2016 held in Dubai

DUBAI: At the Knowledge Summit 2016, held in Dubai from Dec.5 to 7, I attended a session titled, “Future Foresight – Against Ideological Extremism,” in which Ann Morgan was one of the speakers. Ann is a freelance writer, editor and author from London and is known for her book, “Reading the World.” I got an opportunity to meet her after the event.

Below is what we spoke about:

Your book “Reading the World,” is inspired by your year-long journey of reading a book from every country in the world. What made you do that?
Ann: It came out of a realisation of my own ignorance. I thought I was a very cosmopolitan, international person but my bookshelves told a different story about me: almost all the books in my collection were written in English by writers in the UK and North America. I set out to read a book from every country to correct that massive cultural blind spot in my own reading life.

You said that “stories have an enormous power to connect us across various divides.” What makes stories so powerful?
Ann: Stories have the power to show us the world through other people’s eyes. When we read, we are able to step a little way out of our own lives and concerns, and into the mindset of other people. This means that stories can help us understand the perspective of people with experiences very different to our own. They enlarge our empathy and humanity.
 
Can sharing stories help combat ideological extremism? If yes, how?
Ann: The understanding of different perspectives that reading stories gives us makes dialogue possible because it teaches us about our common humanity. This works against the tendency to think of those we disagree with as “other” or unreachable. Although those feelings are natural in response to violence and brutality because we don’t want to feel that we are like the perpetrators of such atrocities, they can also play a role in perpetuating extremism because they make exchange and negotiation impossible. Sharing stories from diverse groups and perspectives within and across cultures allows all people to feel heard and valued. This helps combat the isolationism that often precedes the spread of extremism.

How would you encourage Arabs to read more?
Ann: I discovered from the findings of the Arab Reading Index 2016, that the average reading time of Arabs is – 35 hours a year, according to their figures. I am always delighted to encourage people anywhere to read more (and there are plenty of people in the English-speaking world who read much less than 35 hours a year, so people from the region are not alone!) For me, it is about sharing the excitement and possibility of stories. It is extremely rewarding to be immersed in a gripping story and to find your mind enlarged by the extraordinary journey books can take you on. The Arabic language is home to one of the greatest examples of this: The One Thousand and One Nights. That wonderful tale is both enthralling and a reminder that stories can literally be lifesavers!

Please recommend some must-read books to our readers. Name five from five different countries.

Ann: Here are five of my recent favourites:
Sweden, Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson Chile, Seeing Red by Lina Meruane Mozambique, The First Wife  by Paulina Chiziane Turkey, The Well of Trapped Words by Sema Kaygusu Equatorial Guinea, By Night the Mountain Burns by Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel

You can find out Ann’s latest adventures with world literature on ayearofreadingtheworld.com
 

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