Thursday, March 02, 2006

Celebrating World Book Day – The British Way

Introduced by Unesco in 1995, the 23rd April is traditionally World Book Day. That is, if the existence of something for just eleven years can be called a tradition. Putting such quibbles aside, the fact remains; the date being chosen as a symbolic gesture in recognition of the anniversary of Shakespeare and Cervantes.

Except in Britain and Ireland, that is.

Despite being the home of the greatest poet of all times, (okay, I accept I am biased, but I am also in charge of writing this piece, so the comment stands – if you disagree, then feel free to add your comments), Britain and Ireland celebrate World Book Day almost two months early. Today, the 2nd March, is World Book Day in these Isles only.

Putting aside one’s incredulity and trying not to imagine the appearance of the civil servant who decided that we should be so different, let us ensure that we do celebrate World Book Day today. After all, for those dedicated hunters of the bound word, the perverse decision of a bowler hat in London ensures that we get two bites of the cherry – we can celebrate World Book Day today and then again with the rest of the literate world on the 23rd April.

Why have World Book Day anyway? Well, the statistics, for once, reveal some interesting detail:

33% of Britons never buy a book.

26 million people in the United Kingdom have a literary level below that expected of a school leaver.

That said, 160,000 new titles are published every year in the UK. That is an astonishing rate of 3,000 new titles per week. No wonder the British Library has problems with storage.

However, the facts get even better, for we can say, in the UK, that we lead the way when it comes to book publishing. Taking the combined literary output of the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand together, a total of 375,000 new titles are printed per year. That is, the UK 160,000 - the rest of the English World 215,000. Not bad going for a small island with a 46% sub-literacy rate and where 30% are bordering on being bibliophobic.

Of the new titles each year, the breakdown is as follows:

18% are fiction, drama and literary criticism
12% are for children and young adults
9% are science and technology

Last year, the first category rose by 21%, the second by 33% and the last category fell by 9%. So, the thirst is there and computers have got to try harder if the printed, bound word is to be seen off in accordance with the predictions of so many people ten or so years ago.

As for me, I am not too fussy about the dates. I tend to celebrate books every day of the year, so having a special day doesn’t matter too much to me. However, I am one of the converted. Many out there are not. World Book Day is an opportunity to spread the word – literally. Today, you should encourage someone you know to read a book. Recommend one to them, tell them where to buy it, suggest they become a member of the local library, or even buy a book for them. (As for lending a book…don’t ask me to go there, my friend. That is taking World Book Day and our friendship just a little too far for me.)

So, the important dates for your diary:

2nd March 2006 – World Book Day

23rd April 2006 – World Book Day, The Sequel.

Happy celebrating.

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