THE world would not be the same without books.
Many people read and books are widely known as materials that educate and inspire mankind.
Regardless of whether you read or the kind of books you like the most, books have been serving their purpose – education – for thousands of years.
And while booklovers celebrate World Book Day – also known as International Day of the Book – on April 23 every year, it’s perhaps also time for those yet to pick up the reading habit to learn about this significant occasion.
Although World Book Day is not a major celebration in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur has been named World Book Capital for 2020 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).
According to Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay, the nation’s capital has been selected because of the strong focus on inclusive education, development of a knowledge-based society, and accessibility to reading for all parts of the city’s population.
The programme with the slogan ‘KL Baca caring through reading’, focuses on four themes – Reading in all its forms, Development of the book industry infrastructure, Inclusiveness and digital accessibility, and Empowerment of children through reading.
Among the other events will be the construction of a book city (Kota Buku Complex), a reading campaign for train commuters, enhancing of digital services and accessibility by the National Library of Malaysia for the disabled, and new digital library services for 12 libraries in poor housing areas of Kuala Lumpur, according to a statement on Unesco’s official website.
Culture of reading
From April 23 next year, Kuala Lumpur aims to foster a culture of reading and inclusiveness with the tagline – ‘A city that reads is a city that cares’ – emphasising ubiquitous access to books throughout the city.
The city’s ambitious World Book Capital programme is said to be linked to its Vision 2020 and associated with an eco-city project called the River of Life with open-air bookshops and libraries populating its newly-restored waterways.
Kuala Lumpur is the 20th city to hold the title (World Book Capital) since 2001.
The past holders are Madrid (2001), Alexandria (2002), New Delhi (2003), Anvers (2004), Montreal (2005), Turin (2006), Bogota (2007), Amsterdam (2008), Beirut (2009), Ljubljana (2010), Buenos Aires (2011), Erevan (2012), Bangkok (2013), Port Harcourt (2014), Incheon (2015), Wroclaw (2016), Conakry (2017), Athens (2018), and Sharjah (2019).
Kuala Lumpur’s application was accepted by an Advisory Committee, comprising representatives of the International Publisher’s Association (IPA), the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and Unesco.
The World Book Day celebration was incepted by Unesco on April 23, 1995, to recognise the “magical power of books”, serving as a link between the past and the future and a bridge between generations and across cultures.
Books did not always look the way they do today. Clay tablets were used when writing systems were invented by ancient civilisations thousands of years ago.
In the Third Century, the mainland Chinese were the first to make something that resembled books of today. Way back then, books consisted of numerous thick bamboo pages sewn together.
In the mid-15th Century, Johannes Gutenburg’s printing press brought books into the Industrial Age. We are now able to enjoy the works of Shakespeare and many others whenever we want to, thanks to the invention.
April 23 is symbolic in world literature as the date on which several prominent authors, including William Shakespeare, Miguel Cervantes, and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all passed on.
This date was picked by Unesco to pay a worldwide tribute to books and authors and to encourage reading.
Books are termed as the most beautiful invention for sharing ideas beyond the boundaries of humanity space and time as well as the most powerful forces of poverty eradication and peace building.
In fact, World Book Day is the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by Unesco, and observed in over 100 countries.
While Unesco has fixed April 23 as the celebration date, some places such as the UK has elected to mark the occasion on the first Thursday in March.
Whichever, World Book Day is meant to encourage people to engage with literature and promote not only reading but also publishing.
Many places all over the world offer plays and special readings to encourage children to read on World Book Day.
On this occasion, Azoulay has a special message for all, “When we celebrate books, we celebrate activities – writing, reading, translating, publishing – which help individuals to raise and fulfil themselves; and we celebrate, in a fundamental way, the freedoms that make them possible.
“Books are at the intersection of some of the most essential human freedoms, primarily freedom of expression and freedom to publish. These are fragile freedoms.
“Faced by many challenges, from the questioning of copyright and cultural diversity to the physical threats looming over authors, journalists and publishers in many countries, these freedoms are also denied, even today when schools are attacked, and manuscripts and books destroyed.”
A famous quote by Abraham Lincoln states, “All I have learned, I learned from books.”
Lincoln was an American statesman, politician and lawyer who served as the 16th US president – from 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.
“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom in learning from books as well as from nature” is another famous quote associated with books by Mortimer Jerome Adler, an American philosopher, educator, and popular author who worked within the Aristotelian and Thomistic traditions.
To celebrate this year’s World Book Day, do find the time for some reading. You may have a book which you have yet to get around to finishing, so the occasion is the time to enjoy every page with a cuppa.
Embrace books and happy reading!