August 9 is Book Day in the United States. Scanning the news bulletins beaming out of that strange and excitable outlier* from the rest of the English-speaking world, it’s difficult not to conclude that a quiet sit down with a long book for a week or two would do American citizenry a power of good.
New Zealand doesn’t have a Book Day. We probably should. We have days for lots of things, including public holidays for provinces which haven’t existed since 1876, and for the birthday of a monarch on a day which isn’t actually her birthday.
We should be able to manage a Stay In Bed & Read Day – sometime around mid-winter, say.
Or – for Wellingtonians, anyway – whatever day the Downtown Community Ministry Bookfair is held. This is like a festival of second-hand books, and people queue in the rain for it (yes, seriously. In how many other cities in New Zealand do people queue in the rain for second-hand books?? ).
A few months back I stumbled across a bunch of Companion Library books at a second-hand bookstore in Petone. I don’t know the history to the Companion Library series, but I know it was a cheap way to get ahold of some of the great classics.
They were available on some sort of hire purchase plan, I think. They were via mail order, and you got one every couple of months or something similar. There was no actual ‘front’ and ‘back’ to each volume – each volume had two books, and you flipped them over and read in from each end.
They were cheap – all the books were well out of copyright, and I bet even for their cheapness someone was making a packet out of them. The first one my folks got for us was Alice in Wonderland, and I can’t for the life of me remember what was on the other side of that volume.
Had a huge effect – I had vivid dreams anyway, and here was a tale about a very vivid dream.
The volumes I read most often was the one which had Grimms Fairy Tales on one side and Hans Christian Anderson’s Tales on the other. Wore that one out. More vivid dream fodder, of course, with more than a touch of menace. And in the case of the Hans Christian Anderson stories, menace with moralism.
Aesop’s Fables was also a fave – and I notice now, looking back, that like the Grimms/Andersons volume, it was short stories. The thing I remember most about the Aesop’s Fables was discovering the origin of a few phrases (‘Oh, so *that’s* where “sour grapes” and “dog in a manger” comes from!’).
I presume the Companion Library has long since been discontinued. You can get all these on Kindles now. Probably for free or as close as makes no difference.
Anyway, Happy Book Day, wherever you are, and Happy Reading, on any day and any device.
*included especially for Steve Braunias