World Book Night 2020 — rediscover the power of words during lockdown

April 23 marks World Book and Copyright Day – an annual event created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. TheCity.ie’s Ayumi Miyano took advantage of lockdown to rediscover the power of reading, using solitude as an opportunity.

In Paris in 1995, UNESCO selected April 23 as World Book and Copyright Day. This date also marks the deaths of prominent authors William Shakespeare, Miguel Cervantes and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. In Ireland and Britain, ‘World Book Day’ is held on the first Thursday of every March. This year, UNESCO selected Kuala Lumpur as the World Book Capital to maintain the impetus of the Day’s celebrations through its own initiatives. 

In Britain, World Book Night — run by The Reading Agency — takes place on the same day. Their #ReadingHour event occurs between 7pm and 8pm on the day, used to motivate audiences to read a book at home. 

“It’s all about encouraging people to slow down, take some time out and just focus on reading, and reading for pleasure — just reading anything that you want to and enjoying the process,” Kathryn Rose, assistant programme manager of The Reading Agency, tells TheCity.ie. 

Under the current coronavirus lockdown, the inspiration of World Book Night sounds as persuasive as ever. Although it is currently impossible to physically attend the book events due to the pandemic, why not join online book clubs instead? Buy books on virtual bookshops, show support for small businesses in Ireland, or use an Amazon Kindle and you’ll have plenty of time to read by yourself at home during the lockdown. 

I have been preparing myself for April 23 — I readied some books on my Kindle, and prepared stacks of back-up options in my room. I forced myself to read them. However, at first, my stay-at-home reading trial was not easy. Notifications from social media, online media publications, emails, calendar, to-do lists, banks, and app updates endlessly pull my concentration away from the pages of my books.

I admit that I used to be a bookworm — it reminds me of commuting to work, back when I was living in my hometown. The metro in Tokyo is normally overcrowded, and quiet. People pretend they are fine when minor or major disasters happen: somebody’s umbrella hits you, a train suddenly stops because the train hit a person at the platform, or a drunk woman suddenly gives you a big hug. No matter what happens, you have to keep yourself cool and relaxed — that is the way of the Tokyo commute.

To follow this unwritten rule, I always tended to keep a book with me as a shield. Looking at my bookshelf, choosing the one with which I thought I could kick-off my day, was part of my everyday routine. With a book, I could easily distance myself from the outside world and dive into my imaginary world — a different kind of social distancing.

However, my routine changed after I changed my old mobile phone to a brand-new smartphone. The impact of that transformation was life-changing. I could listen to music from my playlists, read newspapers from all over the world, observe the lives on my friends on social media, and even work from the phone. I knew that all books I loved were always on my shelf, but I no longer starting off my day with five minutes of “book selection” time. My biggest excuse for not reading books was that I could read anything on my phone, despite never actually following through. 

Photo: Unsplash

Even before the current version of isolation began, The Irish Times reported last year that Irish people were using their phones for four-and-a-half hours every day, including 64 minutes on social media, 53 minutes on video platforms like YouTube, 32 minutes on browsing the internet, and 20 minutes on sending and reading emails.  

I think part of it is the distractions we have; from games and phone apps to constant social media attention. One of the main tips we would offer people is to put your phone on silent, or even put it in another room for full solitude.

Of course, most of the time when we are browsing something on the phone, we are reading — reading newspaper articles, emails, posts and comments on social media — but in a speedy and spontaneous manner. When a notification pings, we tend to multitask checking on our social feed with whatever else we were doing so that we’re never quite apart from what’s going on with the digital world. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram notifications plagues us with updates from acquaintances we haven’t spoken to in years, or from total strangers with filtered lives. We are unconsciously and endlessly consuming random information.

“One of the main tips we would give people is to put your phone on silent, put it in another room,” Kathryn Rose says. “It doesn’t have to be for a long amount of time just maybe 10, 15 minutes, and just set yourself like small goals, say I’m going to read a chapter, I’m going to read five pages — and you can gradually build that up.”

World Book Night was a great chance to get back to my reading routine. The challenging part was to create spare time without any distractions. Moreover, even when I am reading a book with my phone turned off, a voice is urging me to check the news, to exercise, to open my emails, to observe what my friends are doing online. The biggest distraction was always within my own head.

“If you’re reading fiction, then that can definitely be an escape from your life. If you’re reading a news article, it’s very much about what’s going on, making yourself think about the world,” says Rose.  

I have decided to indulge myself in just reading a book on April 23, with no phone notifications, zero work-related worries and no pressure to catch up on information in the digital world. I will allow myself to spend my entire day enjoying the simple act of reading. World Book Night will definitely indulge my rediscovery of words, and their endless power.

Reading a book is a simple way to escape from the monotonous daily life of quarantine, and maybe even from yourself. You can be somebody else for World Book Night — embodying the true power of books.

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