Book Day is a day when books bounce off the shelves
(as in Toy Story) and into the streets
by Kris Sinclair Christian
Photos: K.S. Christian
¿Me regalas un libro? Te regalo un libro. Translated literally it means “Will you give me a book? I will give you one.” That’s the motto on banners all over Spain promoting the world’s annual Book Day, celebrated on the 23rd of April for the simple fact that the two greatest names in world literature, Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, died on that day (and the same year too – 1616).
One wonders in this digital age how Cervantes got to pen the colossal El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha since he took part in many a fierce battle. In the Battle of Lepanto the valiant soldier turned bestselling author sustained gunshot wounds that rendered his left arm useless for life.
Book Day is a day when books bounce off the shelves (as in Toy Story) and into the streets where avid readers can pick them up and take a stroll through the literary woods whilst newcomers to the word become instant readers .
Or would you rather do it as they do in Barcelona on the feast of Sant Jordi (St. George) celebrated on Book Day? A partner presents a rose to his Lady Love and she in return gives him an interesting book – a novel, a book of verse. . .
For yet another year regular readers – or simply the curious – in Madrid were able to select from a whole range of authors. There is at least a 10% discount on books.
Moreover, the Madrid authorities have organized around 600 activities. This should keep book lovers browsing for a couple of weeks.
This year Anglo-Indian writer Salman Rushdie, author of Midnight Children and the controversial Satanic Verses took part in a talk titled “From Magical Realism to True Reality” at the Real Casa de Correos de Madrid with Gabrial Albaic, philosopher, writer and regular columnist in the ABC, one of the oldest dailies in Spain, and Juan Cruz who is on the editorial board of El Pais, the country’s most widely read newspaper.
This was followed by a conference by Jean-Christophe Rufin, French doctor, diplomat, historian and novelist. He spoke about “The Path as a Metaphor to Life.” And the reading public eagerly listened to Ian Gibson, a hispanist noted mainly for his biographies of eccentric Salvador Dali and Andalusian poet-dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca. The Irish born Gibson writes both in Spanish and English.
On Book Day Gibson teamed up with other celebrities from the literary world: Vicente Molina Foix, film maker and prolific writer; and Marcos Giralt Torrente, literary critic for El País, awardee of the Premio Herralde de Novela and the Premio Nacional de Narrativa for his novel Tiempo de vida. In the round table conference these giants of literature spoke about “The Mask,” “The Individual,” “ The Genre” . . .
Another eminent speaker was 81 year old Elena Poniatawska, a Mexican journalist of a Polish-French father and a Mexican mother whose writings mainly deal with social and political issues. She has also been a campaigner for the less fortunate souls in Mexico especially the women.
Winner of numerous coveted awards Poniatawska received the Cervantes prize, the most important award for literature in the Spanish language, from King Juan Carlos at the University of Alcalá de Henares on 23 April.
Referring to Don Quixote and his imaginary windmills she said, “I am a writer who can´t talk of windmills because they don´t exist anymore, so I speak about those humble wanderers who with their pack, their pick and spade make their own luck and trust in an impulsive writer to recall what they have told us.”
Literature took on a musical note when Marie Modiano, a celebrated French songstress-songwriter and erstwhile actress (trained at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London) recited her verses accompanied by 42 year old Swedish composer, singer and guitarist Peter von Poehl. The event which was organized by Institut Français in Madrid turned out to be a big success.
Autograph hunters headed to Callao and the Puerta del Sol in the heart of the city. In Callao Salman Rushdie made the scene, whilst at the Puerta del Sol Fiorella Faltoyano, a noted screen, television and theatrical actress from the 70´s, signed copies of her book, Aprobé en Setiembre, a must read for nostalgic fans who have watched a lot of Spanish films before and after the transition era.
Enthusiastic readers checked out arrays of books in numerous stalls around Madrid.
At the impressive Casa de América (right across the General Post Office) Octavio Paz was honored for his 100th birth anniversary. The Mexican diplomat won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990 and was awarded the Miguel de Cervantes Prize in 1981.
Incidentally, at the same cultural center a special homage was also paid to another celebrated writer from Latin America, the Argentine-born Julio Cortázar on his hundredth birthday.
A huge billboard in the revamped Puerta del Sol showcased an unusual piece of art – post-its by many devoted readers as a befitting homage to writing.
Colmenar Viejo, in the north of Madrid, celebrated Book Day on a large scale too. The bourgeoning town drew large crowds to this year’s book event since a special homage was being paid to Platero, the silvery donkey in Platero y Yo by Juan Ramon Jimenez, the 1956 Spanish Nobel Prize winner for Literature.
Among the numerous activities scheduled was the invitation to anyone to stop by and recommend a poem or an extract from a book. Fair exchange is no robbery and anyone taking a liter of olive oil got two tickets for the theatrical performance of a puppet show based on Don Quixote.
Segovia, a city of the autonomous region of Castilla y Leon, marked Book Day in a very special way. Clara Luquero, the young and charming mayoress placed a laurel on the plaque of Miguel de Cervantes in calle Real “because he made us imagine all the worlds that are possible.” She also fondly remembered the late Garcia Gabriel Marquez’s masterpiece, 100 Years of Solitude. “The most important novel of the twentieth century in Spanish and the greatest treasure of our language,” the lady remarked proudly.
A laurel leaf was placed on the bust of Antonio Machado in the main square.
Machado had resided in Segovia for twelve years and taught at a high school in the region. At midday there was a guided tour to trace the Antonio Machado route. Moreover, the mayoress chatted with the public handing them a yellow daffodil, Garcia Marquez’s favorite flower.
A special mention ought to be made of The American Institute for Spanish Studies where a marathon bilingual reading of Washington Irving´s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Jack Rabbit in the Painted Desert was held. Kids listened attentively to the reading of Library Lion.
More yet on books: In a very few weeks book lovers will make a beeline to the annual book fair in the picturesque Retiro park.
Thank God for good authors and their books. We can always reread these “faithful friends” patiently waiting for us at the library.
Calle de Miguel Angel 8, 28010 Madrid
Phone: 913 081 674
Open Mondays to Friday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Saturdays 9 to 2 p.m. (Interesting kids’ activities; parents can join in too.)
Highly qualified friendly staff, books in English and Spanish, DVD´s (British and American films, also Spanish series and documentaries), American newspapers and magazines, literary circle, readers’ theater. A special section for kids and English teachers activities for enhancing English learning for kids, conferences for adults and reading and discussing famous writers and their works.
Reasonable fees for a year or six-month membership
St. George’s Guild Library (St. George’s Church)
Calle Nuñez de Balboa 43, 28006 Madrid
Phone 915 765 109
After the morning service and once a week (for more information phone or visit website).
A well-stocked library on all subjects and also a wide and unusual selection in the biography section.
Fees are reasonable.
Activities: Monthly meetings and interesting talks by national and international speakers, visits to museum, etc.
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