World Book Day (2nd March 2006)
World Book Day is being celebrated today. It’s an occasion to appreciate bedtime stories and learned journals alike. Even in this technological era there is a place in our everyday experience for books which no other medium can fill…. just try organising your bookshelves to see how true this attachment is, and how early in our lives it begins.
It’s World Book Day today, and by a strange co-incidence in this house we spent quite a bit of it putting up new bookshelves in the hall – the only place left anywhere to park more books.
The decision to re-organise several boxes of books had nothing to do with today’s more organised focus elsewhere, but it brought home to me just in how many ways we all use books in our daily lives. Of course books tell us things, they help us to learn and to retain knowledge, and they offer entertainment and amusement; but they are also mementos of our lives.
Books as the biography of their owners
Re-arranging my books, I thought how they had been acquired, and what impact they have had on me. My C. P. Snow Strangers and Brothers series takes me back to when I was still a student, as they opened my eyes to a world of ‘corridors of power’ that I didn’t until then even know existed. Then there are the many books now back on view in our hall which attest to my academic and teaching years, ranging from the early writings on community, gender and health studies through to texts on the sociology and politics of science and knowledge. And side by side with these are those lovely books on European cities, each with their personal memories of summer days relaxing in the sun, and summer evenings listening to music and watching the stars.
Books as the biography of childhood
Then we can add to these adult memories, though still packed away in a cupboard but perhaps to claim their rightful place in a new home somewhere in the future, those children’s books we couldn’t bear to part with when ‘the family’ grew up and left. (I was delighted to discover recently that The Very Hungry Caterpillar is still a firm hit with the under-fives…. just as Winnie the Pooh and Toad of Toad Hall will never be forgotten.)
Legacies and futures
We rarely forget what we grew up with. There are moves afoot, both now via World Book Day, and through programme such as Sure Start’s ‘Book Start’, to ensure that every child in Britain has books of their own before they begin school.
We look back on our personal libraries, however particular, and remember and refer. Events such as World Book Day will help to ensure that, even in this technological age, the citizens of the future will also be able to hold memories and ideas in solid form.
Wasn’t there a saying somewhere (?the Jesuits) to the effect of, ‘Give me a child until (s)he’s seven, and I will show you the (wo)man…’? The earlier in childhood we start to know about books as the repositories of ideas and histories, the more we are able to share and extend these as we grow older.
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