“World Book and Copyright Day is a celebration to promote the enjoyment of books and reading. Each year, on 23 April, celebrations take place all over the world to recognize the scope of books – a link between the past and the future, a bridge between generations and across cultures.”
In 2022, the theme for UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day (April 23rd) is “Read… so that you never feel alone,” which is certainly a sentiment most of us can readily appreciate. I feel that readers and writers are bonded twins, or perhaps symbiotes. I recall that world seemed to open up to me when I began taking up and reading books, and —on a global scale —I realize that the world opens to many others, when they learn (whether in circumstances of dissent or repression, or simply as suburban kids growing up in a bland mass market world ) — that they have both a uniqueness and yet are not alone.
When I was a young reader, my mother used to buy me collections of “classics” — mostly 19th novels in the public domain – that were out of copyright due to their terms having expired. Whitman Publishing ran these, in cheap hardcovers, while Airmont Classics covered the same ground in paperbacks. That’s where I first encountered Robinson Crusoe, Jack Hawkins and Long John Silver, Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe. If it comes to banned books, well, I would suspect that I have read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as many times as any Prof. of American Literature. Paraphrasing Mark Twain ( who was quoting someone else when he said it), a classic book may be thought of as one that “…everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” Another aspect of such public domain classics might be phrased, “books that everybody values, and nobody pays for.”
Those early experiences led to me as a reader – and sometimes as a library curator – of books in literature and history. So, when I say (with so many others) that I love books and reading, I think I have sufficient #bookcred to back it up.
But personal experience, while important, only signifies so much. In the larger world, books have figured as important in the history of freedom. For example, dissent literature (samizdat) circulated from hand-to-hand in the old Soviet Union. The circulation of works by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakarov were instrumental in accelerating the decline of the USSR.
The public domain classics I mentioned above have, by definition, outlived the copyright protection that helped feed their authors. But classics of more recent vintage, or even those not yet fully recognized, do bear copyright protection. Copyright serves to provide authors and other rightsholders with a modicum of control over use of the work, and (if they find success in the marketplace) a means of making a living. While a critic might call that arrangement intellectual capitalism if they like, it’s a clear description and sits fine with me.
“I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.”
— C.S. Lewis, Letters
In observance of World Book & Copyright Day, 2022, I recommend you consider pulling down a favorite old book from your shelf —whether it is in copyright or not —and re-reading it with fresh eyes. I know that’s what I plan to do.