Welcome to World Book History!

Do you remember studying English Literature at school? Lots of my friends hated it, and it could be an awful slog at times.

Library bookshelves full of slow-burning Victorian classics and slightly odd analysis of Sigmund Freud can only have so much appeal. There’s also the troublesome idea of reading something because you HAVE to; the endless lists of ‘books you must read’. 

This TED Talk by the writer Ann Morgan examines the importance of reading and seeking out literature from other cultures.

Granted, Shakespeare and the roll call of romantics are essential to British literature. But with little or no time given to works beyond the Western literary cannon, it can be easy to miss that material’s value. Here at World Book History, I’ll be attempting to change that.

In the age of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, entire cultures often find themselves back-handed away with carelessness and, at worst, prejudice. But all of those cultures have thousands of years of history, politics and experience – a lot of which is often strikingly relevant to today.

Here in the West, perceptions of those cultures are often incredibly concrete, and any attempt to shine a new or different light on them is buried in anger. More likely than not, that anger is based on falsities.

World Book History will try and smash those perceptions. Once a week, I’ll take a book from all corners of the globe – either new or old, fiction and non-fiction – and examine its presentation of that region’s history and societal culture. In doing so, I hope not just to bring lost or forgotten literature from around the world to the fore. I want to shed new light on more famous works that expose the inner workings of the cultures both in the past and in the 21st century.

We’ll be asking questions such as:

• How real is Rajaa Alsanea’s depiction of living as a woman in Saudi Arabia?

• Is James Joyce’s Dubliners relevant to Brexit Britain?

• Is the vision of Russia that we see here in the West as total as it seems?

The world famous Chilean author Isabel Allende. Just how influential has she been? Credit: Shawn

As time goes on, I hope to cover more obscure works and bring hardly-known worlds and periods of history to life. If I can spread awareness of these books and the lives and stories behind them, hopefully it’ll go some way to increasing the interest in non-canonical literature.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter to keep up-to-date with all the articles and musings that are published here. We’ll also be posting polls and surveys, and maybe even competitions with some nifty literature-based prizes.

Here’s to a long future of refreshing and enlightening reading.