Thursday, 5 March 2015

World Book Day 2015

What is World Book Day for? Why do we need it? What difference does it make to promote the idea of books in a world throbbing with electronic communication? Are paper books really better than Kindles and e-readers?

These are just some of the questions I was asked by the 19 radio journalists I spoke to today.The idea was to promote the work of the Open University (where I work as a creative writing lecturer) and alert people to the fact that reading breeds writing, and writers need to read. (A concept that doesn't convince some creative writing students, though in my experience the more talented the student, the happier they are to read Other People's Books.)

So here are some edited highlights from today:

World Book Day celebrates books - and reminds people that they exist. It's aimed at children,and was set up by UNESCO eighteen years ago, but it's just as vital for adults to lose themselves in a good book. (And the expression 'lose yourself' is telling - total immersion in someone else's story to the exclusion of everything else is an experience no one should miss.)

 But there is so much to distract us in our 24/7 world, and reading demands more of us than slumping in front of the TV. (Unless you are watching Wolf Hall, of which more later.) So it's sometimes a matter of delayed gratification, or staged gratification - effort is needed to get a return.

Children are more likely to develop the reading habit - and keep it for life - if the adults in their house are readers too.

It's not just a case of reading Dickens or some fat tome - though personally I love Dickens - but finding a book that suits your mood and your interests. Crime, romance, historical fiction, non-fiction - there is so much to choose from. And you can learn, yes, but book are also there to entertain.

And are paper books better than e-readers and Kindles? No, but they are special. There is something about reading a tactile book, being able to smell the pages and sit with it propped in front of you in a cafe, or fill it with post it notes, or (shock horror) write (in pencil) in the margins, that connects you with millions of readers over hundreds of years.

Finally - we live in an age of wonders and horrors, but I am still not sure we have achieved anything more astonishing than being able to communicate an imaginary world to someone else by making marks on paper.