I say “most of the world” because the United Kingdom observes World Book Day on the first Thursday in March. (Our own British expatriate writer Paul St. John Mackintosh has covered it.) April 23 clashes with their Easter school holidays and is also St. George’s Day—though there is a World Book Night event there this evening at the British Library.
As for the rest of us, April 23 is the death date of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, among others (exactly 400 years ago today, in fact), so it seems like a fitting day to celebrate the fact that the book hasn’t died, even as the e-book has come along and made publishers’ lives more complicated.
Consider how remarkable it really is that as basic a technique as writing down words on paper has stood the test of centuries. Even if the “paper” we now use is often electronic in nature and the words we use bear little resemblance to the tongue in use in Gutenberg’s day, we still have an unbroken literary tradition reaching back hundreds of years that seems assured to carry forward into the future.
Even in an era of rampant audiovisual media, of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and similar services, the ease and simplicity of the written word means it will probably still be with us forever. You don’t need any special equipment to write words—just a pencil and paper. Even when it comes to books, e-books, and self-publishing, all you need is a simple computer and some free software to write in—you don’t need expensive audiovisual production equipment.
Of course, the full name of the day is actually “World Book and Copyright Day,” according to the UN. But given how much copyright has been abused lately, I’m not entirely sure that’s something to celebrate. Nonetheless, this is a day to be glad the written (or typed) word is still around, and to hope it remains thus forever more.