Long Live the Books!

For some people, a book is a prehistoric artifact that smells bad (if you have ever wondered why they smell) and that has quickly been replaced by anonymous and insipid screens. For others, books still hold an important space whereas it is in their life or on their shelves.

So, happy World Book Day!

April 23 has been chosen by UNESCO, the original creator of the WBD, because many authors were born or died at this date. On April 23, 1616, both Cervantes and Shakespeare passed away. In fact, when in 1616 Spain had already adopted the actual “Gregorian” calendar, England was still using the “Julian” calendar. So to be true, it was the date April 23 for both cases but the two writers have not died on the same day, but we are not here to quibbles about facts…

Since 1995, UNESCO and various actors from the book industry have been organizing events, concourses, meetings to celebrate and encourage reading, and especially for kids. For those you could not have enough with the World Book Day, there is also a World Book Night, which proposes to hand out free books in the US, the UK, and Ireland. This year a total of thirty books have been selected, including Just Kids in which Patti Smith profiles her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Charles Moore, A peace marcher takes a rest and reads a book by Mahatma Gandhi, 1963

W. Eugene Smith, Leon Miller, assistant to W. Eugene Smith, Carnegie Library, 1955-56

[Sylvia Beach in the upstairs apartment where she hid her books when the Germans came during the occupation, threatening to close her shop if she would not sell her first edition of “Ulysses,” Paris]

Roman Vishniac, Holy books in the beit midrash (house of study), Mukacevo, ca. 1935-38

©Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

In the shtetl, people lived in poverty but were rich in the wisdom of Jewishness. These books, as crowded together as the people, were like living beings. I can almost hear, still, the krechtzen (groans) and moans of suffering and feel the hopes and expectations of the worshippers reading the pages. Like the undernourished children of the shtetl, the books were frail. So tragic, that the books and the people shared a common fate.

Vishniac, Roman, A Vanished World with a foreword by Elie Wiesel, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983, plate 2.

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