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Culture

Reading for the World

Tuesday is World Book day - time to celebrate those dog-eared favourites - all over the world.

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Reading is still a global popular pasttime

We take them for granted, but in the past they were worth dying for – books.

According to Koïchiro Matsuura from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, books are a fundamental means of access to knowledge of values, wisdom, aesthetic sense and human imagination, vectors of creation, information and education and a means of dialogue, exchange and development.

And a reason to celebrate: In dedication of the book, the UNESCO has proclaimed April 23 as "World Book and Copyright Day" - the date on which Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega died.

Baked clay

It all started back in 50 000 BC, with the first form of "written" communication – cave paintings. Later, the first "books" were made in the Middle East using tablets of baked clay.

But both cave paintings and baked clay were not particularly portable, and using pictures proved in the long run highly ambiguous.

The Ancient Egyptians began "writing" in 3,500 BC, using papyrus, fibres from the stalks of reeds from the river Nile. Around 1,000 BC, peoples living along the Mediterranean began developing alphabets. In 100 AD paper was discovered.

With the discovery of paper, the book, as we know it today, was born.

Knowledge

According to Koïchiro Matsuura "books represent a heritage that is specifically rooted in distinct cultural traditions and which is continually evolving through interaction with other traditions, in relation to and in dialogue with the Other."

Tuesday’s World Book Day celebrations are therefore dedicated to "Heritage and Dialogue" and "Heritage and Development". "The celebration of World Book Day in 2002 is an opportunity to consider the major contribution of books to the cultural heritage and thereby spark new initiatives from the fertile interaction between the pages - be it in printed or in electronic form" Koïchiro Matsuura says.

However, more and more children across the globe seem to be more attracted by words and pictures in electronic, rather than printed form.

Although the literacy rate is not declining, the number of books read and of children in industrial countries who read for pleasure is decreasing.

Books and computer

In Germany, one in three children experiences the world mainly through television or computer screen. Experts fear that this is the trend for the future.

Numerous studies conducted in Germany and elsewhere have shown that children exposed to reading by parents who themselves regularly pick up a book turn into the most avid readers.

However, the pressures of modern life and busy work easily prevent parents from delving into a good, thick book on a regular basis and public reading activities are becoming increasingly overshadowed by more exciting, and child-popular pasttimes.

But the book is not doomed to oblivion. In fact, recent years have seen a rise in book profits and an increase in literay output. Worldwide success such as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter proves the staying power of good stories and the financial windfall they bring.

But as numerous studies in Germany have shown a rising number of readers in recent year, these are mainly adults. Children are still proving distracted by multimedia and electronic displays.

However, the book’s strongest competition- the computer - has also helped boost book sales. Far from replacing the book, the internet has opened new means of advertising and distributing.

According to Günther Grass, German author and winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize, "there is no surrogate for books".

"The act of reading, the private company of a book which you can carry around, ... – no computer can replace that".

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