Welcome to a World of Literature

Everything you need to know about the world's great writers and emerging voices is being collected and shared on the English PEN Online World Atlas. Head over to the Atlas to create (or edit) a profile for your favourite author or book, leave a comment or contact another user, and discover your next great read. We believe that great writing has the power to change your life and change the world, one book at a time.

The Atlas is proud to be partnering with the Hay Festival's Beirut39 contest, celebrating Beirut's year as UNESCO World Book Capital, to find the hottest authors under 40 of Arabic origin. Nominations are open until August 24th, 2009.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Discoveries: Online vs. Real-World Browsing

Over the past few months, as the moderator on the English PEN Atlas, I've discovered a wealth of new titles by the power of Googling -- searching, following links, working through publishers' catalogues. But sometimes I need to go and smell the books and undertake some real-life Googling, or browsing as it was once known. A trip to the Toronto Women's Bookstore turned up two new names (new to me, anyway): Iqbal al-Qazwini and Sahar Khalifeh. al-Qazwini is an Iraqi-born freelance journalist now living in Berlin, and her first novel Zubaida's Window is the first Iraqi novel published in English to focus on the 2003 invasion. Khalifeh is a Naguib Mahfouz-medal winning Palestinian novelist and feminist, whose Wild Thorns is considered the classic chronicle of life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

If you follow the links of the Atlas, they could lead you to other Iraqi and Palestinian writers. Or you could try searching "occupation" to discover thematically-connected books. It's like a bookshop whose shelves are constantly re-arranging in different constellations (countries, authors, themes) -- but, as the trip to TWB reminded me, it's also a stage on a journey to the bookstore where you can find hard copies of the texts that have tempted you virtually. TWB has regional sections (Middle East, Pacific Asian, for example), which is unusual and means they carry a lot of books in translation and by writers in exile… Word Power in Edinburgh is another globally-focused, outward-looking store. Both see carrying literature in translation as a social, political and pedagogical responsibility -- as well as making for a rich literary culture.

What are your favourite bookstores for tracking down literature in translation? Do you order straight from the publishers (see the blog sidebar for some of the great publishers -- and let us know who we're missing)? Book fairs? Online specialist bookstores like the Spain-based Libreria Mundo Arabe? One of the thrills of being a reader is visiting bookstores as you travel -- as suggestions come in, I'll build a sidebar list of great bookshops as recommended by you.

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