In a few days World Book Night will be marked in the UK. Now you may be confused. You may have heard of World Book Day and you may also have heard that World Book Day was for children, and yet I shall be talking about books for adults. So what’s going on?
First, there is a World Book Day — or World Book and Copyright Day — which is also known as International Day of the Book. This is a yearly event celebrated on April 23rd organised by UNESCO, the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organisation. Its stated purpose is to promote reading, publishing and copyright.
Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO wrote in 2011 that
Books are both object and idea. Tangible in form, intangible in content, they express the mind of an author and find meaning in the imagination of readers.
Reading is this private conversation, but books are all about sharing –- sharing experience, knowledge and understanding.
This is the wealth we celebrate on World Book and Copyright Day. Books are the most powerful forms of dialogue between individuals, within communities, between generations and with other societies. This unique means of dialogue must be protected. [… ]
UNESCO’s responsibility is to explore all of the repercussions of change and make the most of it — while preserving those values and forms of expression that we share and cherish. Our role is to provide a platform for debate and to act as a knowledge-broker to explore old and new ideas.
But UNESCO weren’t responsible for settling on this date. In 1995 it took its lead from the Book Day celebrated in Catalonia following the success of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. The spring date had been chosen because Spain’s most famous author Miguel de Cervantes had died on 23rd April 1616, a day also assumed as the death date of Shakespeare. Coincidentally this is also the feast day of St George, the patron saint of both Catalonia and of England.
In Cataluña the tradition is to combine culture and romanticism on Diada de Sant Jordi: couples exchange gifts — a book for the man and a red rose for the woman — leading to the day being also known as is also known as El Dia del Llibre (Book Day) or El Dia de la Rosa (The Day of the Rose).
And now we come to a different World Book Day. The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is “to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.” Because April 23rd often occurs in the UK school holidays the decision was made to mark it on the first Thursday in March (March 1st being the first day of the meteorological spring). So you will find that £1.00 and €1.50 books are made available for schoolchildren in exchange for a token in this corner of the world.
World Book Night was first celebrated in the UK and Ireland in 2011 on Thursday March 5th, the thinking being this: “as day is for children, then night is for adults and night is also when we traditionally think about celebrations”. In 2012 the connection with the children’s event was severed when it was moved to 23rd April to coincide with the UNESCO International Day of the Book. The concept arose from “a round table discussion at the Book Industry Conference in May 2010, the purpose of which was, quite simply, to imagine a way to encourage more adults to read.”
In 2013 World Book Night then became part of The Reading Agency, “now run as one of the charity’s programmes as part of its work to inspire people to share reading and celebrate the difference it makes to our lives.” The Reading Agency’s research shows that
reading for pleasure is a more powerful factor in life achievement than socio-economic background and can contribute to positive mental health. Nearly two thirds (64%) of those who received a book on World Book Night 2016 said it encouraged them to read more, while 88% of those who gave out books said they had talked about books more since taking part.
2017’s targeted giveaway will see The Reading Agency “working more closely with care homes, youth centres, colleges, prisons, public libraries, mental health groups and other charities to match books with new readers.” Such audiences will particularly include
• Adults with low literacy levels or who don’t read for pleasure
• Isolated and vulnerable older people
• LGBTQ groups
• Men and women of all ages in UK prisons
• Parents and vulnerable pregnant women
• People with mental health issues
• Young people who don’t read for pleasure
“Books are given out across the UK with a focus on reaching those who don’t regularly read, and are gifted through organisations including prisons, libraries, colleges, hospitals, care homes and homeless shelters, as well as by passionate individuals who give out their own books within their communities.” The chosen titles for 2017 are:
The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam (Canongate)
Payback by Kimberley Chambers (Harper)
Raven Black by Ann Cleeves (Pan Macmillan)
A Very Distant Shore by Jenny Colgan (Orion) Quick Reads
Streets of Darkness by A. A. Dhand (Transworld)
The Beach Café by Lucy Diamond (Pan Macmillan)
Faded Glory by David Essex (Head of Zeus)
Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo (Penguin General)
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding (Vintage)
The Traitor (Carnivia Trilogy) by Jonathan Holt (Head of Zeus)
False Nine (Scott Manson series) by Philip Kerr (Head of Zeus)
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan (Hodder & Stoughton)
Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence (Hachette Children’s)
The Secret Marriage Pact by Georgie Lee (Mills & Boon)
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik (Bonnier Zaffre)
Animal Kingdom by Millie Marotta (Pavilion)
The Good Son by Paul McVeigh (Salt)
One False Move by Dreda Say Mitchell (Hodder & Stoughton) Quick Reads
Wonder by R. J. Palacio (Penguin Random House Children’s)
The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink (Pan Macmillan)
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Vintage)
The Girl Who Wasn’t There by Ferdinand von Schirach (Little, Brown)
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (Penguin General)
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley (Harlequin)
The Missing by C. L. Taylor (Avon)
The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen Aged 83 ¼ – Anonymous (Michael Joseph)
I shall be looking out for what my local organisations are doing with a view to helping this extremely worthy scheme.
- Sullivan and Brown (2013) Social inequalities in cognitive scores at age 16: The role of reading
- The Reading Agency (2016) World Book Night 2016 Evaluation Report