On World Book Day

This was my message as the chairman of the Maltese National Book Council to commemorate World Book and Copyright day, celebrated (almost) world wide on April 23 (2012).

The celebration of World Book Day on April 23 is much more than just a marker that by far the majority of people still love books. It is quite a bit more.

It is a reminder that books have been an integral part of our lives since we were young. They were part of our childhood, possibly in both good and bad ways. Bad as in having had to read them because the teacher said so – the often counter-productive forcing of reading by parents and educators that results in so many keeping well away from books they do not have to read. Good as in wonderful days lost in the worlds created by children’s writers, wrapped round in wonders and life that was not as we knew it.

World Book Day is an indicator that the book in its traditional form is alive and well. That e-books, that are also books and should be respected as such, have not managed to eradicate the paper book. The e-book has not so far proved to be a replacement for the traditional book, but an add-on – possibly getting people who have not been avid readers to read more, and helping bookworms get a higher dosage of their daily fix. The traditional book is unique in its tactility and its form. No electronic paper can replace the rough feel of the yellowing pages of an old paperback, nor can it replace its utility and warmth. Researchers are even finding that the story is slowly going full circle. Children are falling in love all over again with printed books, finding in them an escape from the electronic dominance in their young lives.

World Book Day is a celebration of that communications medium that has changed the life of so many.  The coming of the book so many centuries ago, changed the insular lives of individuals into ones that became aware of the thoughts and ideas of others. The learning that has been imparted by the book is second to none. For many centuries it was the repository of all the wisdom of humanity, and the library became the sanctum of knowledge – the sacred space for the scholar to thrive and the reader to imbibe of life outside life. It is little wonder that book burning became the sign of the tyrant despot who wanted to control minds. It is even less of a wonder that all those who want to impose their own opinions, politics and dogmas on others are afraid of books that might give a clear idea of the other hand. The autocrat will tell you what not to read. The freedom to read with no ban has become another indicator of democracy. The book is linked in this way directly to the autonomy of thought.

World Book Day draws our attention to our own country and the books it produces. It underscores how far the Maltese produced book has come over the years. One quick look at the wares available at the November Malta Book Fair is enough to show that the distinction between foreign and Maltese productions is seamless … unnoticeable. The hundreds of books published each year indicate a readership that thrives and can be cultivated. Unfortunately this day also draws our attention to the fact that our miniscule market cannot but leave many battles in the way of our publishers. They prosper in spite of the circumstances and who must therefore be helped at every turn, if we are not to lose the advantage we have gained through such hard work by so many.

Hopefully, the celebration of World Book Day also helps those among us who have strayed away from the beauty that can be afforded by reading, to pick up a book and relive times when our reality dimmed for a while, and the world of words transported us to magic places lived through stimulated imagination.