A book and a rose Editorial
Stabroek News
March 11, 2003

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Text messaging, which employs a unique sort of shorthand has now become so universal that according to a BBC news online edition report on Tuesday March 4, a 13-year-old Scottish schoolgirl handed in an essay written in text message shorthand. An excerpt from the essay reads: "My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc". Translated to standard English, this reads: "My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It's a great place." The report said that text messaging, e-mail and computer spell-checks have long been blamed for declining standards of spelling and grammar. And it quoted the publisher of a new dictionary as warning that there was a "degree of crisis" in university students' written English.

But counter to this, Thursday March 6, saw the sixth successful celebration of the biggest reading initiative in the United Kingdom and Ireland. As part of this annual activity, book tokens worth 1 were distributed to all school children in the UK, through their schools. The tokens, which can only be redeemed for books, were supplied by a private company Book Tokens Ltd, which is the main sponsor of World Book Day. Financial contributions are also made by publishers and booksellers, since although the Department of Education is involved, World Book Day is not a government initiative. The main aim of the annual celebration is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own.

Other events, which also targeted adults, included an online reading festival, numerous book fairs, quizzes and competitions and visits to schools by authors. In nearly every school, teachers dressed as characters in books and children were encouraged to do likewise.

World Book Day was established by UNESCO's General Conference as a worldwide celebration of books and reading in 1995. Designated World Book and Copyright Day, it is celebrated elsewhere in the world on April 23, Saint George's Day. The UK chooses to organise its celebration in March, before the Easter holidays, in order to ensure that the maximum number of children are reached through their schools.

The idea for World Book Day originated some 80 years ago in Catalonia - a region measuring some 12,000 sq. miles in the northeast corner of Spain - where on Saint George's Day, a rose is traditionally given as a gift for each book sold. UNESCO has noted that April 23 was also a symbolic date for world literature since it marked the birth or death of such writers as Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare, the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Maurice Druon, K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Meja Vallejo.

UNESCO, with its focus promoting international collaboration through education, science, culture and communication, has noted too that technology was complementing and in some cases replacing the traditional methods of producing and disseminating information.

"... The future of the book remains in the hands of the readers," UNESCO says. "The production and acquisition of books alone is not enough. We are deeply convinced that the greater the number of people that have access to reading, the greater the possibility for self-expression, for exposure to the ideas and cultures of others. Only then would the conditions for tolerance, mutual understanding and peace be created in the minds of human beings. Hope should be something we can write and read."

Concomitantly, writers' and publishers' exclusive rights to benefit from their creation must continue to be protected. And if this is to be accomplished by fostering a love for reading and books, then the Catalans had the right idea - a book and a rose.

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