Celebrating books, authors, publishers and readers

Today we celebrate World Book and Copyright Day, also known as World Book Day. The day serves as a celebration of books and authors all over the world, and involves activities to “encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.”

In celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, my humble attempt at spine poetry (a wonderfully fun art form that I first heard about from A Little Blog Of Books And Other Stuff). (© All Rights Reserved)
In celebration of World Book and Copyright Day, my humble attempt at spine poetry (a wonderfully fun art form that I first discovered through A Little Blog Of Books And Other Stuff).
(© All Rights Reserved)

In addition to being a tribute to authors, the day also serves to promote publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright.

In her message for the Day, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said: “All forms of books make a valuable contribution to education and the dissemination of culture and information. The diversity of books and editorial content is a source of enrichment that we must support through appropriate public policies and protect from uniformity.”

Definitely a day – and a cause – well worth supporting. To quote Charles W. Eliot, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”

Melvil Dewey and the classification of knowledge

Today is the birthday of Melvil Dewey, the American librarian and educator, and inventor of the Dewey Decimal System of library classification. In memory of Melvil Dewey, today is the Dewey Decimal System Day.

The Dewey Decimal System, or Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) is a numerical system of library classification first proposed by Dewey in 1876. Since its inception, the classification has been revised and expanded through 23 editions, the latest issued in 2011. Basically the system provides a framework within which a library book is assigned a ‘DDC number’ that unambiguously locates it in a specific space of shelving in the library, making it easy to find and return to its proper place.

For every subject, there's a Dewey classification number - in this case, environmental pollution.(© All Rights Reserved)
For every subject, there’s a Dewey classification number – in this case, environmental pollution.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The Dewey system classifies all books into 10 basic categories:

  • 000 – Computer science, Library and Information science & general work
  • 100 – Philosophy and psychology
  • 200 – Religion
  • 300 – Social sciences
  • 400 – Language
  • 500 – Science
  • 600 – Technology
  • 700 – Arts
  • 800 – Literature
  • 900 – History, geography & biography

While fiction books can also fit into the Dewey system (in the 800s), most libraries reserve the system for non-fiction works, rather classifying fiction using a basic alphabetic author-based system.

The Dewey system is used by no less than 200 000 libraries in more than 135 countries. It’s main competitor is the American Library of Congress Classification, which is more complex, but does have the advantage that it allows for the addition of new categories, which makes it more future-proof. The Library of Congress Classification is, however, very US-centric, and despite its increased adaptability it has been much less widely adopted than the Dewey system.

To what extent Dewey’s Decimal System will be able to continue remaining relevant as the knowledge landscape changes remains to be seen, but there can be no doubt that Melvil Dewey made a huge contribution to the classification and accessibility of knowledge the world over. And that must be a good thing.


Keeping yourself in shape on Book Lover’s Day

A few days ago I wrote a bit of an ode to the paperback book. Today, however, we turn our focus from the book itself to those who lovingly cherish all things book-ish – it’s Book Lover’s Day.

The day is, confusingly, also celebrated in early November, but perhaps it’s not that strange – as any true book-lover will tell you, we’ll happily celebrate our love of books every day of the year!

A good book and some quiet time – what more can one ask for?
(© All Rights Reserved)

Whether you love reading, collecting, or simply handling books, this day is for you. Maybe you’ve grudgingly given in to the pressure of the e-book wave, but you’ll know that nothing matches the pure joy of smelling a new, freshly opened book, discovering a well-worn copy of a special book in a second-hand book-dealer, or simply leaning back and enjoying a lazy day with a relaxing read in hand.

And how great is it to discover a wonderful new author you never knew before?

Considering some of the incredible books that have appeared so far this year, there’s certainly no reasons for complaint from the book-lovers among us. Except perhaps a lack of time, or budget, to get around to all the great reads out there.

If you thought reading is only good for the mind, here’s another titbit to further convince you of the advantages of ‘book loverism’: it turns out that readers may be less obese than non-readers! In an article by Fred C. Pampel in the Sociology of Health and Illness journal, entitled “Does reading keep you thin? Leisure activities, cultural tastes, and body weight in comparative perspective”, it is stated that “While sedentary leisure-time activities such as reading, going to movies, attending cultural events, going to sporting events, watching TV, listening to music, and socialising with friends would seem to contribute to excess weight, a perspective focusing on socioeconomic status (SES) differences in cultural tastes suggests the opposite, that some sedentary activities are associated with lower rather than higher body weight.” One of the findings in the article is that people who spend more time reading and generally participating in intellectual activities, and less time shopping and watching TV, have a lower body weight than their peers.

OK, maybe suggesting reading books will help keep you in shape is a bit of a stretch, but if it can help turn one more soul out there on to the joys of reading, why not?

So what books are you enjoying at the moment?

Celebrating Paperback Book Day – accessible, affordable magic

Today we celebrate one of my favourite things in the world – it’s Paperback Book Day.

I’m sure all readers of this blog will agree there’s something very special about opening and smelling a new paperback for the first time. At the same time, there’s real magic in finding a well-read, well-travelled paperback copy of a great book at a secondhand dealer – it’s nigh impossible not to buy it and take it home with you.

A stack of paperbacks to warm a chilly winter’s evening – pure bliss!
(© All Rights Reserved)

On this day in 1935 the first Penguin paperback was published in Great Britain. Before Penguin paperbacks appeared, you essentially had only three reading options – expensive hardcover books, library books, or inferior quality (both in production and content) paperbacks.

Penquin paperbacks were the brainchild of Sir Allen Lane who, after visiting Agatha Christie, found himself at the train station facing a bookstall containing only magazines and low quality Victorian paperbacks. Deciding this was not acceptable, and that good, contemporary books should be more readily available and affordable, he started a new publishing company, which became Penguin books.

Early Penguin titles included works by Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway. The books were colour coded – orange for fiction, blue for biography and green for crime. They sold for the price of a pack of cigarettes (sixpence), and started a publishing revolution – a staggering 3 million paperbacks were sold in the first 12 months.

Despite the massive growth in digital publishing, e-books and e-readers, and a corresponding decline in hardcover sales, the paperback market still appears fairly healthy, with many active participating publishers, including Picador, Faber & Faber, Vintage, Dover, HarperCollins, and many more.  Only recently, EL James’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ broke all previous paperback sales records, amazingly passing the one million sales mark in only 11 weeks (the previous record, Dan Brown’s ‘Da Vinci Code’ took 35 weeks to reach the same sales).

Of course the appearance of quality paperbacks not only implied increased access to good fiction – academic titles also became more accessible, covering a wide range of fields from art to zoology, mathematics to medicine. The importance of paperback books in the worldwide distribution of knowledge and information can hardly be overstated.

Go on, grab a book and get lost in a world of imagination and knowledge – on paperback. As Bernard Shaw once said, ‘If a book is any good, the cheaper the better’.