In 1995, UNESCO organized a yearly celebration of reading, naming April 23rd World Book Day. The date is appropriate, in part, because it is the date of Shakespeare’s death, but it was also chosen because of the long-standing tradition of exchanging books on this day in Catalonia. In this northeast corner of Spain, people have given each other books on April 23rd since at least 1923. The national holiday of Catalonia, La Diada de Sant Jordi is a day when booksellers set up tables and booths all over the streets, and people celebrate books.
Photo from La Vanguardia 4/23/15
World Book Day gets some attention in the US, but most people don’t realize today is a day to celebrate books or to give books to friends and family. Of course, I might argue that everyday is a day to celebrate books and to give them to people, but what if books were at the heart of our national holiday? What if instead of fireworks, we ooh-ed and aah-ed over literary works?
I’ve written elsewhere on this site about how books can be the most wonderful of gifts, especially if given by Kindred Readers. We have all received books that have helped us through difficult times or introduced us to new interests or guided us as we become ourselves. We hold these books dear. We put them on special shelves. And the people who gave us these books are more dear and special to us for having known to give those particular gifts.
Because I have family in Catalonia, I have celebrated the Day of the Book for many years, and I now invite everyone to this party. Imagine who we might become, if we paused, just once a year, to browse through books artfully laid out on the streets, to carefully choose books for the people we love, and to receive, openly and eagerly, the books people choose for us. I don’t think it’s going too far to suggest we would be a wiser and more thoughtful people.
Just think: what if everyone gave each other books today? The world could be filled with people carefully selecting books they hope other people will love. It could be noisy with the shush-shush of turning pages. Spring’s green and blossom-pink could be speckled with Cambria and Garamond and Book Antiqua as fonts shape lines into letters and words and stories. These stories would come to us on this day, April 23rd, but they would stay with us all days.
Take time today to celebrate books. Give someone a book. Give yourself a book. Re-read a book you love. And, if you read this after April 23rd has past, don’t fret. Every day is a good day to celebrate reading and to give a book to a person you love. And when this day comes next year, do your part to make us a nation that defines itself through giving and loving books.
Feliç Sant Jordi!