World Book Day is an annual event that takes place around the world on the 23rd April. However, here in the UK, it’s moved to the first Thursday of March so that it doesn’t clash with St George’s Day celebrations – thus taking place on the 6th March this year. Celebrated for the first time in 1995, the 23rd April has a special significance for world literature. Not only is it the presumed birth date of William Shakespeare, but he also died on this day in 1616 at the age of 52, leaving Britain with a lasting legacy on theatre and literature and over 200 works. Coincidentally, the ‘Shakespeare of Spain’, Miguel de Cervantes, also died on the 23rd April of the same year. Therefore, UNESCO decided to honour these two literary giants by celebrating all things great about books on this day each year. The day is celebrated differently around the world. In Spain, Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’ is read during a two-day “readathon” and the ‘Miguel de Cervantes Prize’ is presented by the King of Spain to an outstanding writer, in a similar vein to our Booker Prize in the UK. In Catalonia, loved ones tend to exchange books with each other or family members.
Here in the UK, many schools will be trying to encourage young children to pick up a book in their spare time and become enthusiastic about reading again. In a modern world where the internet dominates and where children are getting involved on social media and playing computer games at a younger age, reading a book can sometimes seem outdated, old-fashioned and even a bit boring. Before the launch of the iPad, former Apple boss Steve Jobs predicted a gloomy future for literature, claiming that: “people don’t read anymore”. So, is this true? Now, with an increasingly literate global population, is this contradictorily the generation when reading dies?
Clearly Steve Jobs was wrong. In fact, if anything, the birth of the e-book, along with the iPad, has created a reading revolution – perhaps the biggest publishing development since the invention of the printing press in 1450. During summer 2010, Amazon announced that sales of e-books were beating those of hardbacks, with the website selling 143 e-books for every 100 hardbacks. This shows a huge change in our reading habits.
However, the emergence of e-books has meant bad news elsewhere. Libraries are struggling and some have had to shut completely because so few people are using their services,and only a few years ago Borders the bookshop went bankrupt, with many predicting that Waterstones might go the same way too. Whilst there are advantages to carrying a lightweight, portable e-reader instead of a heavy book in your bag or on holiday, for many avid readers, owning a book is almost as important as reading it, and flicking through the pages of an old favourite will always be more satisfying than turning the pages electronically on a shiny gadget (that can sometimes be a bit temperamental too). Similarly, looking at a colourful bookshelf full of a lifetime of books could never be beaten by an electronic ‘catalogue’ on a Kindle.
Admittedly, though, e-books offer levels of interactivity that will appeal to the YouTube generation, and primary schools are even beginning to notice this and get on board, using e-books in the classroom. Whilst Shakespeare may be turning in his grave, there is one big benefit to these new publishing developments: they are enticing more and more people into reading, and that surely can only be a good thing.