April 23, Day of the Book
While living in Madrid, I learned about the coolest holiday ever–Book Day, or Dia del Libro, as it was called in Spain. On this day, the bookstore handed out roses with your book purchase. The tradition is that a man gives his lover a rose, and she in return, gives him a book. Now, when I was there, I thought the opposite was true and gave the Spanish credit for being so progressive, but alas it was not so…
Anyhow, gender inequalities aside, I choose to see it as a day to celebrate literacy in general. April 23rd is significant in the literary world as the day of death of two literary giants—Shakespeare and Cervantes—in 1616. Of course, it not quite that convenient, the two lived from different calendars, and they actually died about 10 days apart, but again, details details. It’s still pretty amazing that they lived and died around the same time and their contributions to literature are huge—Shakespeare to poetry and plays, Cervantes to fiction and to what we call the novel. (He practically invented the anti-hero as we know it today….waaaayyyyy before Marvel Comics and Dark Knight.)
Anyway, today would be a great day to celebrate by dusting off a book from your shelves and reading it again, or venturing to your local bookseller, or powering up your ebook reader and selecting a new read. I highly suggest reading either Shakespeare or Cervantes, if you are not that committed, I have two other suggestions:
A great classic is Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. No seriously. Really. This book is awesome, and it isn’t what you think it is. It’s a thousand times better than a monster with a bolt in his neck. This is a great story of a man being obsessed, creating disaster, and then living out his life trying to destroy his creation (and vice versa.) It’s awesome. It’s thrilling. I’m telling you. Read. It.
For a newer book, I haven’t read it, but Jennifer Egan just won a Pulitzer for fiction for her book A Visit from the Goon Squad. She will be reading this fall at PDX’s Wordstock Festival October 6-9, 2011. http://www.wordstockfestival.com. I’ll be reading it.
(And, yes, I am volunteering for the festival. Full disclosure and all…)
There is, apparently, little consensus on the exact date of Book Day. Spain celebrates it on 4/23, on the Feast of St. George, and the UK, citing conflicting dates with Easter, chose the beginning of March. Here are a few links with more information, plus other dates, so you can celebrate books all spring long!
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has pinpointed the 4/23 date, too: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/events/all-events/?tx_browser_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=3130&cHash=11abc7645c
International Children’s Book Day is around April 2. http://www.ibby.org/index.php?id=269