World Book Night: Celebrating the Joys of Reading Together

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By Debbie A. Officer

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. Frederick Douglass

Last year, when libraries and bookstores, all considered “nonessential” businesses, were shuttered around the world, there was a sense of unease for bibliophiles and readers alike. Many questioned whether the publishing industry would survive.  Hope prevailed, though.  Individuals and families turned to many things that created a sense of comfort. Some creatives took up knitting needles, embroidery threads, painting brushes or baking supplies, but the prevailing solace for millions was still the written word.  Brick-and-mortar book shops and libraries continued to reach patrons and customers through their online sites with their programs available via remote platforms.   

Fast forward several months later, and bookstores and libraries continue to be places of comfort and solace to many in cities across the globe. In New York City, our mainstream and independent booksellers are now reopened for business in-store and online. Before cities saw a dip in bus and subway riders, it was a common sight to see adults and children alike immersed in their favorite books while commuting to school or work. It’s a sight this writer yearns to see more of when we all return to the rhythm of life before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although we still can’t all gather in libraries and ride the subway in a big huddle at the moment, we can participate in our individual cities with our favorite books to celebrate World Book Night on April 23. This event was initially kickstarted by the United Nations’ cultural wing, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) back in 1995 to foster a global recognition for books. The event, however, took a foothold in the United Kingdom and Ireland (10 years ago) where it continues to be celebrated with gusto. Since its initial start under UNESCO, World Book Day has caught favor in many cities around the world. According to UNESCO, the inspiration for the date came about because “April 23 is a symbolic day for world literature. It is on this date in 1616 that Cervantes, Shakespeare, and Inca Garcilaso de la Vaga all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors, such as Vladimir Nabokov and Manuel Mejia Vallejo.”  

Separated by time zones and languages, World Book Night and UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day, aims to connect people through a love of reading or the need to inspire more adults and children to interact with books.  It is even more relevant right now that we can join friends, neighbors, and relatives to discuss or share a book together.  This year’s theme is “Books that Make me Smile.“ At the heart of this celebration is the emphasis on getting books into people’s lives.  You don’t have to read a special title or a particular genre, you just have to make time to read for an hour or share your thoughts about books you enjoy with those closest to you. World Book Night was celebrated in the United States for a few years before publishers sadly decided it was too costly for them to host it in venues around the country.  This year, African Voices is joining in the celebration with UNESCO and World Book Night (UK and Ireland) by informing our readers about this important event, while supporting our fellow book lovers in cities near and far during this time. 

There is no specific  “ritual” or way of celebrating World Book Night. It’s as simple as brewing a pot of tea/coffee, pouring a glass of wine, opening a favorite book, or buying a copy of one you always wanted to read. You can call friends and family by phone or video chat to talk about books and take turns reading passages aloud from a favorite tome. A list of books relating to the theme of “Books that Make Me Smile” can be viewed below. This is by no means a definitive collection on the subject, so feel free to select any book that stimulates joy and laughter. For those who don’t fancy the comedic, Amazon is playing its part in honoring selected writers from countries like Turkey, South Africa, Sweden, China, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Israel and Argentina. Readers can download the selected offerings for free until April 24.

The message of World Book Night and UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day resonates with diaspora communities because they were most impacted by antiliteracy laws during slavery and colonization. These communities are still facing a crisis of inequality in literacy and educational programs. In the spirit of those, like Frederick Douglass, Denmark Vesey, Harriet Tubman and countless others who risked their lives by learning to read as a way to liberate themselves and their people, this is a night to reflect on the power of reading and storytelling.  

By creating a sense of community through the shared readings and the shared knowledge, readers around the world can connect and mutually help curb loneliness.” UNESCO

(Selected books can be downloaded for free until midnight April 24)

Discover World Book Day – Amazon

A Selected Book List 

The Last Black Unicorn 

By Tiffany Haddish

A Confederacy of Dunces

By John Kennedy Toole

Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

Catch-22

By Joseph Heller

Sellout

By Paul Beatty

I Can’t Date Jesus

By Michael Arceneaux

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell

By W. Kamau Bell

Where the Sidewalk Ends

By Shel Silverstein

Bookstores to Support

Sister’s Uptown Bookstore

1942 Amsterdam Avenue, New York NY 10032 

(212)862-3680

Café Con Libros

724 Prospect Place

Brooklyn, NY 11216

(347)460-2838

Revolution Books

437 Malcolm X Blvd

New York, NY 10037

(212)691-3345

Book Culture

536 West 112 Street

New York, NY  10025

(212)865-1588

Strand Bookstore

828 Broadway 

New York, NY 10003

(212)473-1452

A Few resources for World Book Night and UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day.

Books | World Book Night

World Book and Copyright Day

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