At a time of uncertainty and confinement, books open the door to freedom, transporting readers beyond time and borders, the head of the UN’s educational and cultural agency, UNESCO, said on Friday.
For this year’s edition of World Book and Copyright Day, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay encouraged everyone “to pick up a book, start turning its pages, and draw from it a breath of fresh air, which will help sustain you now and in the future.”
The power we need now
She noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are turning to reading to help them escape lockdown and cope with anxiety.
“It is the power of books that we all need right now, as we are reminded of the fundamental importance of literature – as well as the arts – in our lives.”
Books are unique because they have the ability both to entertain and to teach, Ms. Azoulay said.
“They are a means of exploring realms beyond our personal experience through exposure to different authors, ideas and cultures”, she said. “They are a means of accessing the deepest places in our minds. Page by page, books light a path for us to roam, unbound by time or borders. In other words, books give us freedom.”
Protect literary professions
World Book and Copyright Day is observed annually on 23 April, marking the deaths of the writers William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.
Ms. Azoulay said while the Day honours authors “whose works have been captivating our imagination for centuries”, it also pays homage to all the professions associated with books, namely editing, translation, publishing and book selling.
“These fields make it possible to disseminate our literary heritage, to allow for the expression of new ideas, and to enable the spread of stories,” she explained.
“These professions must be protected and their value acknowledged. This is all the more relevant in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which poses a deep and lasting threat to culture.”
Reading: A refuge for everyone
The UNESCO chief highlighted the unique ability books have, to both entertain and to teach.
“They are a means of exploring realms beyond our personal experience through exposure to different authors, ideas and cultures,” she said. “They are a means of accessing the deepest places in our minds. Page by page, books light a path for us to roam, unbound by time or borders. In other words, books give us freedom.”
Ms. Azoulay stressed that the power of books must be fully harnessed. “We must ensure their access so that everyone can take refuge in reading, and by doing so, be able to dream, learn and reflect”, she said.
UNESCO has designated Tbilisi, Georgia as the 2021 World Book Capital. The city was chosen because of its focus on using modern technologies to promote reading among young people, including through a programme that transforms books into digital games, thus ensuring access to all.