April the 23rd is a symbolical day for world literature.
April the 23rd is a symbolical day for world literature. Two outstanding writers, Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare, died on that day in 1616. Some of the world’s famous writers, such as Maurice Druon, Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Pla were either born or departed on that day. It was back in 1995 that the UNESCO General Congress declared April the 23rd World Book Day, as a tribute to all writers and to encourage readers, particularly the young ones, to discover or rediscover the pleasure of reading.
This year on April the 23rd, a publishing house in Bucharest staged the Night of Open Books, when 4,000 volumes were opened and made available to those willing to leaf through them, on a pedestrian street in the old city center. Furthermore, people could even walk away with those books. The director executive of the Litera Publishers, Marin Vidrascu, the organizer of the Night of Open Books says it was for the second time that such events were organized at European level.
“We got the idea from a similar event that took place in Spain four years ago and we adjusted it a little bit to fit our city. The event started at 8:30, when passersby were welcomed by thousands of open books all along the Lipscani street, in the old city center. After dark, everybody could lend flashlights and start reading books, right there, on the narrow streets of the old city center. The event lasted until midnight. We tried to bring a wide variety of books, such as fiction, romance, science, art books, as well as books on architecture and film and even children’s literature. According to our estimates over 6,000 people attended the event.”
Six thousand people managed to take away 4,000 volumes from Lipscani street in less than 20 minutes. Some of the participants described those 20 minutes with just one word: “chaos”. Mihaela Ionescu was present, but she did not manage to see the books:
"I had seen pictures of this kind of event in other countries, and I expected to see a street with books well lighted, nicely arranged, so you could stroll around and leaf through them, to have an easy time of it. However, when I got to Lipscani street, I found a huge crowd, bustling around what I could only guess were books, because I couldn’t reach a single one. Even though the basic idea was good, it turned into a circus. Maybe people really don’t have money for books, even though you really want a book, you find them at second hand bookshops at low prices. I think that this is a habit of ours, when you hear something is given out for free, you take your entire family in tow, go to see what it’s about, and you snatch away as much as you can. People who actually read don’t come to these events, I think, they buy their books in bookstores, they come to these events only to see what they are about, at best, but not to get pushed around in a crowd.”
Marin Vidrascu told us that the organizers did not expect people to come in such large numbers:
“At these events there are people who are pleasantly surprised, and others who are not exactly delighted. There were a lot of people, the street is fairly narrow. We didn’t expect so many people to show up, hence the bustle. Paradoxically, we are among the last countries in Europe in terms of book consumption, below five Euros spent on books, for a book market worth 60 million Euros. I’ll give you a reference point: Hungary, a country four times smaller, has a book market almost three times larger, worth 200 million Euro. I think a lot of people came to get those books they can’t afford. In Romania right now books are luxury items, which not many people can afford.”
In a future edition, Marin Vidrascu would like to have a roomier location, and would bring more books, and would also like to make some organizational changes. However, he says, this type of event, with its pluses and minuses, draws attention to reading, which is why it is worth creating opportunities for discussion about what and how Romanians read. Marin Vidrascu:
“This event is part of a campaign meant to encourage reading. We are trying to whet the appetite for reading among young people. The average age for book buyers in Romania is over 40. This average drops when it comes to on-line purchases, but on-line buying in Romania is just beginning, it is not a hefty percentage of sales. A poll was run among Romanians asking them if they still read, and what. Most said they don’t have time. Another poll shows that Romanians spend an average of four hours watching television. I don’t see how they don’t have time to read. We are not in competition with other publishers. We are in competition with television. It is a battle that has just begun, and will continue for years to come. What will we do? We will keep organizing events like this, allowing us to meet readers face to face.”
Not all opinions of the Night of Open Books were negative. Some people saw the potential of this event, and the message behind the gesture of offering someone else a free book. What is certain is that the 2014 edition is eagerly awaited.