The World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan is supposedly the experience of a woman who in one year read a book from every country across the globe and I loved the idea for a book review. From the inside flap, I expected it to be a literary version of The Happiness Project. Julie and Julia Goes to the Library. A thoughtful and personal account of discovering culture and people from around the world in the pages of one book from each country.
A memoir of sorts, based on the impact all these books had on the author.
The World Between Two Covers is sort of that. Well, not so much. Maybe. Hard to say.
Are you sensing some ambivalence here?
The book is organized as a series of academic essays around a central theme which is that the overwhelming majority of books worldwide are published in English. Due to this, our understanding of other cultures suffers. Morgan repeats this theme, with subtle variation, in virtually every chapter.
This repetition suggests that the book was written as a series of separate essays and later combined into a book. It is not a sequential or chronological narrative of her year reading books from different countries.
The chapter essays struck me as academic papers written more for other academics than for the interested reader. Morgan displays enviable knowledge about publishing and literary history. She explores fascinating tangents, taking us far from the book jacket’s promise. In fact, Morgan introduces so many other works, literary commentators, philosophers, and social science findings, that the books supposedly at the core of this effort are lost in the tide of scholarly information. When I finally saw the list at the end, she had only referred to a handful.
I kept thinking the meaty personal experience part was right around the corner but it was doled out mostly as teasers. For example, she got odd looks on the subway while reading an obscure book from the Marshall Islands. What happened next? Aristotle on catharsis and a string of social science findings.
Related: Free Guide: How to Write a Book Review that Matters
Morgan has given us a worthwhile and impassioned look at the state of global publishing. She missed the opportunity, however, to tell a more personal story that would inspire us to seek out books to help English speakers understand other cultures. Which was her whole point.
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I'm author Carmen Amato. I write romantic thrillers and the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat. More