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Dr Mallia, Chairman of the National Book Council – World Book Day,2012

 The meaning of books in our lives

There is definitely a reason why the world celebrates a Book Day! It is not because books are as indispensible as food or medicine. We can easily live without books but the question I need to ask here today is: Do we want to?

I dare say the answer is no. But I am biased. I happen to thrive on books. They fill my life with a lot more than I can personally experience every day in a reality that is often mundane and not massively exciting. They give me insights into the minds of other people, enriching my own and helping me problem solve those occasions I have not encountered in life. And they are also an infinite amount of fun.

So we celebrate World Book Day to remind people of just how much books can mean to their lives.

The first World Book Day was celebrated in 1995 when Unesco decided this should be a worldwide reminder of the importance of books. However, the tradition had started decades before in Catalonia, Spain, when, on April 23, in memory of the death of the writer of Don Quixote, Cervantes, the men would give a rose to the women, who, in their turn, would give a book to the men. Even today, half the books sold inCataloniaare bought during this day.

A tradition but one which means a lot more than a simple tradition because, where the book is concerned, there is life itself: education, entertainment, information. The wisdom of the world between two printed covers.

It is difficult to think of the book with anything less than total respect. And anyone who loves reading knows exactly what I’m talking about and understands me straight off.

It was a pleasant surprise for us in the National Book Council when research we commissioned indicated there are many Maltese who love to read, though not all love to read books. We were also happy that a high percentage of these like to read in our language, Maltese. And this is also corroborated by the hundreds of books published each year inMalta. In a country of a few hundred thousand, with a very limited market, it is truly a wonderful thing that we have so many hard-working writers, illustrators and book producers. And no less so that we have courageous publishers who, most probably, go against the advice given to them by their accountants and publish so many books of a level that is comparable and at times even better than those of countries with gigantic markets.

How I wish that those who like to read newspapers, magazines and the internet will also develop a love of books – not even necessarily in the traditional format, because the e-book is quickly making inroads into our country and for me it too is a book.

But I have to admit a particular love for the traditional book that can be carried everywhere and does not need batteries and an internet connection. That is made of a material you might enjoy touching, feeling. That is a desgined packet and not just text.

I read somewhere recently that if the e-book was the original technology and someone invented the paperback afterwards, the chances are it would fly off the shelves because it is so versatile. It does not need electricity, you can wet it, you can write on it, you can bend it and it continues to work. The book is resilient and it is still strong. In our country too, although most certainly not as much as I would like it to be. The book has become almost a symbol of wisdom. But saying it is a symbol might mean to some that it is an abstract concept that does not have a concrete presence and there is nothing further from the truth than this.

Books are tangible vehicles that hold well beyond their small volume. And they fill our world in ways that very little else can, even in a society so dominated by information and communication technologies. The book is the most basic of technologies and, yet, in many ways, the most essential of them all.

On this World Book Day, may I again say how I wish that whoever is reading my words today will go and buy or borrow a book. On any subject, providing it’s one that s/he likes. And read it. And get lost briefly in it and understand, not briefly, just how important books are in our lives.

Dr Mallia is chairman of the National Book Council


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