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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Books - worlds of the imagination

Today is World Book Day in the UK; though UNESCO has deemed it should be on 23 April (which happens to be the anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, 1616).

Two different days for the same event? Why not? To my mind, every day is a ‘book day’. Avid readers and book lovers probably can’t get by most days without reading.

Worlds of adventure and excitement
I can’t remember when I read my first book unaided, but it was a long while back in the mists of time. There were not that many books in our house – a single small bookshelf, containing Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia, a few adult hardbacks and home-help tomes, and an enormous dictionary with thumb indents for each letter of the alphabet. With my pocket-money I started collecting the children’s hardback Regent Classics that could be bought in Woolworth’s: Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, The Coral Island, Lorna Doone, Kidnapped, Black Beauty, Last of the Mohicans, Quentin Durward, among others; all with bright dust jackets. At about the same time I discovered the local library, and Swallows and Amazons, Doctor Dolittle etc. This was before the paperback explosion of the 1960s, when books became ‘affordable’.

Unread books
Even discounting A Brief History of Time, a number of books occupy shelf space but never get read. That’s according to a recent survey, commissioned by a storage firm of all things. In fact, their sample of 2,000 people suggest that one in five books on our shelves go unread. I’m sure the statistic is higher in my case – I’ve got so many unread books because I don’t have the time to read as many as I’d like, but I bought them with every intention of reading! The same applies to my backlog of e-books.

The average home contains 158 hardbacks and paperbacks. (I’ve got more than that in just one genre!)

In Patrick Tilley’s Mission (reviewed here) the main character, an alien, simply has to touch a book and he has read it. I assume he gleans pleasure from the experience. Anyway, that would certainly take care of my backlog!

What are the reasons for hanging on to books? Research suggests many people hoard books (some eight billion!) of which one in five is unread. They keep books because there’s an emotional attachment; others hate throwing away anything. And we all know that charity shops often plead ‘full’ where books are concerned. Sixteen percent of respondents admitted they keep certain titles on their shelves so that they can appear intelligent! Those most likely to impress guests include To Kill A Mockingbird, Moby Dick and the Bible. On the reverse coin, Katie Price’s autobiography, 50 Shades of Grey and anything by James Patterson were considered liable to adversely affect their reputation in the eyes of guests.

The snobbish slight to James Patterson seems a little unfair. He has a ready market of readers who like his books, so why not cater for them? And he does put his money where his mouth is: over the last few years he has supported reading initiatives – not to sell his books but to encourage reading. He has donated £50,000 to the new World Book Day Award. Winning schools will receive thousands of pounds worth of books for their libraries.
As Patterson says, ‘Reading is one of the building blocks of life and can take you to another world.’


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