How to Become World Literate

What “world” are we talking about when we talk about “world literature”? We know it when we see it. It’s not France. It is definitely Africa. It might be Russia. But what about Finland? Or Puerto Rico?

And what “literature” are we talking about? Do folktales count? Are comic books literature? What about religious texts?

The term can be traced all the way from Goethe to the Norton Anthology. But when we casually say “world literature” we usually mean: books that were not written by white people, that you won’t find in your English 101 classroom, that feature places it would take you at least two flight connections to visit.

Leaving aside the difficulty of defining it, what are some strategies for reading the world? How do we become world literate?

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Haruki Murakami and Your Love Life as Metaphor

As usual, this year brought some Nobel buzz for Japanese author Haruki Murakami, who is best known in North America for works such as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, and 1Q84. Also as usual, he did not win, much to the disappointment of his devoted fans.

It so happens that I spent much of the weeks leading up to giving birth lying on the couch rereading his novels. Not in preparation for news from Sweden but because I wanted to finally deal with them systematically, rather than picking up a novel every few years and racing through, only to end up on the last page, scratching my head and wondering “What the hell just happened here?”

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