Last night was World Book Night. Described on the official website as “a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift specially chosen and printed books in their communities to share their love of reading,” it also happened to fall on the birth and death day of the Bard himself.
To honour the occasion a host of events were held across the country, among them the Southbank Centre’s annual soiree, hosted by Hardeep Singh Kohli and attended by a wealth of current literary greats including two of my favourite authors, JoJo Moyes and David Nichols, who read passages from this year’s list of books.
But this year’s World Book Night comes at a sad time for literature, at least of the printed variety. Worrying levels of literacy amongst the younger generation can in no small part be attributed to the advent of the digital age. Today children up and down the country prefer to spend evenings playing computer games rather than reading fiction. Even if their parents loved nothing more than curling up beside the fire with an Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl book when they themselves were children, it seems the art of reading for pleasure seems to be dying out – and not just where young people are concerned.
That’s why the idea of World Book Night is such a charming concept. Not only does it encourage people who have drifted away from reading back into the literary fold, it also reminds them of the joy of holding a book rather than just seeing it on a screen (don’t get me wrong, the e-reader has its place, but it’s no substitute for the real thing; the touch and smell of a brand new book are amongst life’s greatest pleasures). And even more than that, it helps people to get back in touch with their imagination – something that this hectic world can all too easily oppress.
Whether your bookshelves are lined with alphabetised classic novels or the whole Fifty Shades series, it’s likely reading has had a significant impact on your life, whether you realise it or not. The digital age is here to stay, and children who are born into it won’t know the joy of reading unless we teach them. It’s up to each and every one of us to keep the art of reading alive for generations to come.