Monday musings on Australian literature: World Book and Copyright Day, Australian-style
World Book Day 2012 was more than half over before I realised it existed. That could be my fault of course. I may have had my head so deep in my last blog post and my current book that I missed all the publicity …
Are you aware of World Book Day? April 23 was established by UNESCO as World Book Day in 1995 to promote reading, publishing and copyright. Why April 23rd*? Because in 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. April 23rd is also the date of birth or death of other authors such as Maurice Druon, Halldor Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo. And, while she may not be in the same class as these luminaries, the Australian creator of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers died on April 23 (in 1996).
Anyhow, upon discovering that today is World Book Day, I hit Google to see what I was missing. Not much it seems. I discovered, for example, that the Department of Education in Western Australia thought that March 1* was World Book Day. Hmm … yes it was, but in the United Kingdom. Several others thought the same. The English, it seems, are doing such a great job of promoting their celebration of World Book Day that they have confused we Antipodeans!
So what is World Book Day all about? Here is a description from UNESCO:
It is observed by millions of people in over 100 countries, in hundreds of voluntary organizations, schools, public bodies, professional groups and private businesses. … World Book and Copyright Day has won over a considerable number of people from every continent and all cultural backgrounds to the cause of books and copyright. It has enabled them to discover, make the most of and explore in greater depth a multitude of aspects of the publishing world: books as vectors of values and knowledge, and depositories of the intangible heritage; books as windows onto the diversity of cultures and as tools for dialogue; books as sources of material wealth and copyright-protected works of creative artists. All of these aspects have been the subject of numerous awareness-raising and promotional initiatives that have had a genuine impact. There must nevertheless be no let-up in these efforts.
Oh dear … Australia could perhaps lift its game a little. After some careful searching of the National Year of Reading 2012 website, I finally found a link to the World Book Night (which says that it will be celebrated in the UK, Ireland, Germany and the USA). I found no press releases or reports on World Book Day activities involving our first Children’s Laureates. And Google didn’t turn up anything from booksellers or publishers.
However, my favourite radio station, ABC Radio National, knew it was today … and posted so on Facebook! To commemorate it, they asked their Facebook fans what they were reading and got 12 responses (by early evening, anyhow). And BookTown Australia has a web page on World Book Day. They suggest “that the enthusiastic focus on Book Week later in the year and … the proximity to ANZAC Day (April 25)” are reasons for minimal observance in Australia. They would like this to change:
One aim of BookTown Australia is to give World Book Day a context to be celebrated in Australia and link it to the international community of booktowns. Using World Book Day as the commencement of the One Town – One Book community reading programs is seen as viable means of doing so, especially as the reading program can then culminate in August to coincide with Children’s Book Week. On World Book Day (April 23) in Australia in years to come, any community – village, town suburb or city – can be a “booktown” on that day, simply by declaring its participation in the reading program with the announcement of their chosen book.
This was probably written in 2002 and there’s nothing on the site to suggest that anything significant has eventuated. And yet, the day does seem like a great opportunity to make a bit of a splash – to promote our writers, to encourage reading, to stimulate discussion about copyright and books in the new digital environment.
The theme for the 2012 World Book Day is Books and Translation. At first glance this is not, really, a comfortable fit for we Australian readers who live in an anglo-centric island nation. And yet, it could be an opportunity to draw attention to the diversity in our population and how reading translated literature can help us learn about and understand our non-English speaking compatriots.
I’m afraid I’ve rambled a bit today (more than usual, anyhow!) because I’m a little flummoxed. Does anyone have any experience of World Book Day – in Australia or elsewhere? Are we so over-run with UN-designated World Days and International Years that they’ve just become too much noise?
* Apparently, while most countries keep to the April 23 date, there are some that don’t, including the United Kingdom. This year they celebrated it on March 1. I was intrigued to discover that the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford dedicated their celebration of World Book Day this year to Jane Austen. They had a display, a reception, and two talks, one of which was on a sequel (not PD James’s though)!