A day dedicated to books! How relevant is World Book Day in this digital world, in an age of the electronic media? April 23 1995 was first celebrated as World Book and Copyright Day to promote reading, publishing and copyright. How deep is the relationship between books and the world?
Anuradha Roy is in her early seventies; after a bad fall and a complicated surgery following that ordeal she spends a good part of the week at her 3rd floor home in South Kolkata. A hungry and voracious reader for the most part of her life, Roy would never be ‘without a book’. Now of course, the smart phone (“and the tablet” in her case) has taken over most of our lives and she too “read(s) less these days,” circumstances having changed drastically in her homemaker’s life in the last decade and a half. But even then, she tries to catch up on her reading, recently read a pan India travel book, which she didn’t particularly like and is now trying out children’s books for a change, the ones her generation missed out on, Enid Blyton being the first name that she picked. ‘What is the World Book Day, if I may ask?” Roy queries in candid confession of her ‘ignorance’ of the existence of this day to mark a day for books and publishing. “It needs greater publicity if it is being observed and celebrated all across the world for more than the past two decades.”
Not open to the idea of using a kindle or reading an e-book, she emphasizes the joy in unearthing old children’s books, leafing through their dog eared and yellowed pages and drawing sheer pleasure out of this experience. “I am now reading a book from the Secret Seven series”, says Roy, with a happy spark in her voice.
The joy of reading a book is an emotion that remains unsurpassed by anything else, even in this digital age of click, touch and go, with life rushing by on the fast track. Reading has many incredible benefits and there are good reasons to why one should develop and nurture a reading habit in early childhood. And if the love for books is planted at the seed stage and is watered well, it blooms and grows fast. Anuradha Roy’s 11-year-old grandniece carries on in the tradition of her grandaunt and has already finished reading the entire Harry Potter series of books among others, moved on to more real and serious stuff like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and is thirsty for more. Besides helping one acquire and assimilate knowledge, the habit of reading keeps the brain active and ticking. It enhances your analytical skills, keeps you glued to the pages and hence improves the ability to engage with a subject (or an object), with greater focus and concentration. A reading habit also reduces stress and expands the spectrum of one’s vocabulary.
‘Books’ in their physical papyrus form have been considered the unquestioned single source of this simple yet lasting pleasure.One can be transported to another part of the world or even have an out-of the-world experience simply by settling down in a comfortable armchair or a large sofa and allow the mind to remain cushioned in the magical web of words. That’s the thing about book,” says celebrated author Jhumpa Lahiri. “They let you travel without moving your feet.”
However one needs to also acknowledge the fact that the status of the physical book has been undergoing changes and e-books have made an entry to lay claim on the domain of the physical book. Power equations have been changing position and anatomy like quicksilver of late.And the ‘book’ in its physical form is certainly in threatened space.With information technology practically reducing the world to a ‘village’ which can be held in the single clasp of a computer mouse and communication reaching new heights of excellence, copyrights are in an unsafe zone as well. Plagiarism is on the rise as text and images can be played around with and tossed about at will. The World Book Day should bring to light these issues and address related offences.
Senior art connoisseur and critic, author, book reviewer and journalist Ella Datta feels it’s the “way of life which is changing”. And “it‘s not just the market and the economics” which are facing the heat. Datta feels that with the marking of a special day dedicated to books, to the publishing industry and to the issue of copyrights, the World Book Day is of ample significance. “At least an effort is being made to make the present generation aware of books and reading. The World Book Day will benefit the publishing industry.”
“Books are facing a severe challenge and anything that makes us aware of the traditional book is a welcome move,” Datta reinstates.Physical books are fighting a serious battle, she thinks, and a tough one, while Anuradha Roy feels the younger generation is returning to books and developing good reading habits once again while the middle aged and the old of the present generation continue to be active readers, especially after retirement. The numerous book clubs that have sprung up are ample testimony to that. The clubs may not have their own reading or meeting room and the members often meet up at each other’s homes or public venues approached through a book club enthusiast’s membership like the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) in Windsor Place, Delhi. A thriving book club with women members in the age group of 50 – 70 regularly meets there early on a chosen Saturday evening every month. Most of the members are working women, veterans in the fields of research, writing, publishing and education. And needless to say, passionate book lovers. Books are discussed over coffee and snacks, the latest top ranking ones are listed and one is chosen for the next sessionof reading and discussion. Each member buys or sources a copy and each must finish reading before the next meeting.
Readomania run by Dipankar Mukherjee and Book Talk, the book café which is Binita Pandey’s brainchild are two book clubs which are quite popular in Dwarka in Delhi. Book Talk also doubles up as a lending library and both places hold discussions, conversations and cultural events focused around books and reading during every fortnightly weekends. These are vibrant spaces which are emerging to form stronger reading communities and give the physical book a shot in the arm.
According to Ella Datta, the “physical book is a very unique concept”. The production of a beautiful book, especially an illustrated one, is a challenge. The entire procedure including designing, printing, binding, choosing the paper and other material is an intensely creative process. “So much creativity goes into the physical entity of a book,” she says. Browsing, choosing and walking through a bookstore is also a rich experience in itself. She cites examples of well-known ‘institutions’ and cultural spaces built around books—the celebrated old books’ markets in College Street, Kolkata and Daryagunj, Delhi, the bookshop Harmony near Assi Ghat in Benaras and the classic old bookstore Subarnarekha in Shantiniketan. These are browsers’ havens; so are the state-of-the-art bookstores which opened their doors to readers, buyers and browsers with their shared spaces of cafes, bakeries, tea rooms and media centres with projection screens.
“Browsing and finally buying—the whole process involves a fine selection. And these are places which have built up a tradition and will continue to hold special aura, which should augur well for the book,.” Ella Datta rounds off