Today is World Book Day. I thought I'd take this as a moment to make some observations on what those words mean to me. Some are questions, some are just thoughts. And there's the odd recommendation
1. There are people in the world who do not and never will have access to a book, and certainly not to technology capable of reading or writing ebooks. Remember that when you think of a technology or a book being "for everybody." And remember that many who will never see a book may have a richer storytelling life than us.
2. What is a book? I have often siad that as a writer I don't write books, I tell stories.
3. We talk a lot about how ebooks are revolutionisng everything from publishing to the way we make marmite, it seems. But we are also seeing a rebirth in high quality handmade books go hand in hand with that. Here's one:
4. We are also seeing a renaissance in translated books and books from around the world. From publishers like Peirene and And Other Stories.
5. Just this week we have seen Paypal and Smashwords embroiled in a controversy about censorship that reminds us even those with access to technology and books do not have access to everything that is written. What "books" mean in one country or to one group might mean something very different elsewhere.
6. We are not just divided by geography, as this shows. We are divided by morality, but also by class and ideology. I am currently reading Owen Jones' Chavs, which reminds us how real the class divide is. What does this have to do with books? Well, I've written about the way the publishing industry is a self-perpetuating bubble. It keeps some on the outside with the vicious circle of marketing logic - they don't publish things by people in certain groups because there's no evidence there's a readership - but as long as nothing is published, there can be no evidence either way, so some remain permanently excluded. Though self-publishing may act to prove these markets - which can only be a good thing.
7. Books are not traditionally made by everyone - they are produced by publishers. Yet stories are created by andbelong to everyone. Is the divide between these two really only about "quality", whatever that means?
8. As well as World Book Day, there is World Book Night on April 23rd. This is ostensibly about bringing more people to reading. But is it really about that or is it about bringing more or even more of the same authors to the public?
9. Why do we care about books? I do, but I often wonder why. What is it about them? Personal nostalgia? Social and economic usefulness? Enjoyment? Establishing one's place in the nexus of interconnected collective myths? Because we are told they are a good thing? Learning for learning's sake? I don't know, but I do know we don't ask this fundamental question enough, but take the value of books as an axiom.
10. Let me recommend a book from a different world from me. It's The Bacchae, by Euripides. It was written in a different language from mine, two and a half thousand years ago, but when I read it it feels like the author had lifted the skin off our society and stared at its DNA. If it were written tomorrow, it would still feel modern. It is a study of mass violence, crowd psychology, jealousy and discrimination, and it is a masterpiece.