In this era when we are tempted to go overboard, misuse or abuse television and digital technology’s marvels such as the smart phones, tabs and iPads, World Book day today calls for deep reflection on the need to turn a new page or chapter.
World Book Day or World Book and Copyright Day is a yearly event on April 23. It is organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to promote reading, publishing and copyright. World Book day was celebrated for the first time on April 23, 1995.
The connection between April 23 and books was first made in 1923 by booksellers in Catalonia, Spain. The original idea was of the Valencian writer Vicente Clavel Andrés as a way to honour the author Miguel de Cervantes who died on this date.
In 1995 UNESCO decided that the World Book and Copyright Day would be celebrated on April 23, as the date is also the anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and the birth or death of several other prominent authors.
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova – a senior Bulgarian politician, first female and the first Eastern European to head the agency – has issued a stirring message to mark the occasion. She says the book is a link between the past and the future, bridges among generations and across cultures and a force for creating and sharing wisdom and knowledge.
Franz Kafka, a German writer and one of the major figures of 20th-century literature has said a book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul. A window onto our inner lives, books are also the doorway to mutual respect and understanding between people across boundaries and differences, the UNESCO chief says. Coming in all forms, books embody the diversity of human ingenuity, giving shape to the wealth of human experience, expressing the search for meaning and expression that all women and men share, that drive all societies forward.
Books help weave humanity together as a single family, holding a past in common, a history and heritage, to craft a destiny that is shared, where all voices are heard in the great chorus of human aspiration, she adds.
The theme this year is the power of books to nurture creativity and advance dialogue between women and men of all cultures.
Thanking Wroclaw in Poland for agreeing to be the 2016 World Book capital, Ms. Bokova says this has never been so important at a time when culture is under attack, when freedom of expression is threatened and when diversity is challenged by rising intolerance. She has called upon UNESCO member countries to share the message that books are a force to counter, what Shakespeare called, “the common curse of humanity - folly and ignorance.”
In Sri Lanka, the government while taking the expressway to the era of digital technology also needs to take effective steps to revive the reading habit. One practical step was the recent decision to withdraw the tax on the import of books. While students and others need to be encouraged to read good books in Sinhala and Tamil, it is important to revive the habit of reading English books to have a command of the English language – an essential factor to gain the maximum knowledge from the online search engines or encyclopaedias.
During the past 60 years, Sri Lanka’s standard of English has dropped to disgraceful levels for two main reasons. One was the withdrawal of the English medium for party political gain. Though the English medium is now being revived, it may take decades to reach the standards we had achieved. Another reason for the decline of the reading habit was the emergence of television with scores of stations and channels.
For creative and imaginative writing, good grammar and syntax, good imagery and the avoidance of clichés and to learn the art of word economy, we need to get back to the habit of reading. Not necessarily Shakespeare or other classical scholars but reading even detective fiction books such as those of James Hadley Chase or Ian Fleming would help improve writing styles and gain a command of the English language. So go back to your book today, wipe the dust off the book, and probably off your mind as well, and start reading.