The Benefits of Reading Foreign Literature
When it comes to reading, most people like to stick to a familiar canon. Names such as Rowling, Tolkien, Austen, Shelley, Dickens, Pullman and McEwan are in constant circulation. They top many reading lists both personal and educational, and their written works are to be marveled. Nevertheless, the best reading list should have more than a handful of well-known English names!
Recently, only 3% of books published in the UK were translated from a foreign language, which is a startling statistic that narrows the scope of wider reading. This kind of limiting action can bottle neck the opportunities that literature affords.
Consequently, here are four reasons as to why you and others should regularly read foreign literature.
A Fresh Perspective
A literary canon reveres great writers. However, it’s also a biased construct that obscures lesser known works. While many people are quite happy to sit in their seclusion of the English literary canon, it also deprives them of the opportunity to interact with new literary devices, topics and voices. There’s nothing wrong with revisiting genius ideas, but there’s more than a few out there.
Writing from other nations can expand your world view. You can explore commentary on foreign politics, society and stereotypes. Additionally, you can learn about new historical events and cultures. Each author has their own style and nuance in their writing, and opening the door to foreign literature can introduce you to thousands of them. Potentially, there is an entire mine of material that can teach you something new about others and yourself.
As cheesy as it sounds, the world is unified by diversity. The uneducated and bigoted percieve inclusivity as a threat, but its actually a bonafide strength that benefits society as a whole. In the end, a big part of quashing political and social issues is awareness and communication, and foreign literature can play a big part here.
Though the words, places and characters may look or sound different, literature time and again has one objective; to explore the human condition. Different languages can convey the same message through different means, and uphold all the same themes and motifs that a familiar text could. In the end, you will find more important similarities than differences in foreign literature.
As Edward Said famously discussed, the West has a tendency to patronise the East in representation. The former is often portrayed as developed, moral and righteous, and the latter is presented frequently as the ‘other’, corrupt and savage. Of course, this common misrepresentation is far from the truth.
In the end, reading isn’t for the sole benefit of the reader. A profound text can change the face of a culture. Foreign literature can change the way we think or interact with those around us. It can be a voice for the voiceless, giving decent human beings the representation they deserve. Ultimately, an enormous bout of interest can help raise awareness for issues across the globe that need exposure.
Learning a New Language
Many might assume that they need to be fluent in foreign languages in order to read foreign literature. While learning a new language to such a degree isn’t possible for everyone, it doesn’t mean reading books from other countries is a fruitless exercise.
Many foreign books are translated, but can still include certain colloquialisms and phrases in the native language. Annotations or footnotes can be often found nearby explaining the meaning of any foreign vocabulary. It’s a nifty perk, allowing you to thoroughly understand what you’re reading while still appreciating the foreign roots of the text.
Top 5 Recommendations:
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck