Piled precariously on bedside tables, crammed in bulging backpacks, or downloaded as pixel-filled pages, books are everywhere.
Books bring joy and information to many of us, but some 750 million adults around the world can’t read them according to figures from the United Nations. Millions more of every age have limited access to books and all they have to offer. That’s one reason UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, marks every April 23 as World Book and Copyright Day.
World Book Day celebrates books’ unmatched ability to serve as “a link between the past and the future, a bridge between generations and across cultures.” Since its inception in 1995, the annual observance has extended to include events in more than 100 countries and evolved to include initiatives to make books more accessible to everyone.
In honor of this year’s observance, here are a few facts about World Book Day, books, and the people who create them:
- The U.N. selected April 23 to celebrate World Book and Copyright Day because it is a symbolic date for world literature. English playwright William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, author of the novel “Don Quixote,” and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, a writer known for his historical accounts of Spanish conquistadors, all died on that day in 1616.
- “Don Quixote” is the best-selling novel of all time. The Bible is the best-selling book overall.
- “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher topped the American Library Association’s list of most-challenged books in 2017. The young adult novel became a New York Times bestseller when it was published in 2007 and gained attention again after Netflix produced a television series of the same name.
- The kid-lit classic “Green Eggs and Ham” uses only 50 unique words. Its author, Theodor Seuss Geisel—better known by his pen name, Dr. Seuss—wrote it after his editor bet him he couldn’t write a book with less word diversity than “The Cat in the Hat,” which included 225 unique words.
- The world’s most-expensive book isn’t even a book in the traditional sense. The Codex Leicester is a 72-page notebook that once belonged to Leonardo da Vinci and contains some of the multidisciplinary genius’ notes, theories, and sketches. The Codex takes its name from the Earl of Leicester, who purchased it in the 1700s. An art collector bought it from the Leicester estate in 1980 and sold it to a modern-day luminary, Bill Gates, who paid $30.8 million for the document in 1994. But Gates doesn’t mind sharing. He regularly loans the Codex out to museums for display and has had the manuscript scanned and converted into digital files, even using some of its pages to create screensavers for Windows 95.
- People in India spend more time reading than residents of any other country in 2018, devoting an average of 10 hours and 42 minutes a week to the pursuit, according to figures from Global English Editing. Americans ranked 22nd on the list, logging an average of 5 hours, 42 minutes reading each week.
- The seven Harry Potter books contain 1,100,086 words, and some invented vocabulary has moved to from the Wizarding World to the real one, with terms like muggle and quidditch making their way to the Oxford Dictionaries.
“International Literacy Day 2017.” UNESCO UIS, 6 Oct. 2017, uis.unesco.org/en/news/international-literacy-day-2017.
Literacy and Non-Formal Education in Iraq | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Discovery Channel, Producer., www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/events/prizes-and-celebrations/celebrations/international-days/world-book-and-copyright-day-2016/.
Mumford, Tracy. “Literary Mysteries: The Best-Selling Books of All Time.” Minnesota Public Radio News, 21 July 2015, www.mprnews.org/story/2015/07/21/thread-books-bcst-best-selling-books.
Admin. “Top Ten Most Challenged Books Lists.” United for Libraries, 27 Dec. 2018, www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10#2017.
Scher, Bill, et al. “10 Facts about ‘Green Eggs and Ham’.” POLITICO, POLITICO, 25 Sept. 2013, www.politico.com/story/2013/09/ted-cruz-10-facts-about-green-eggs-and-ham-097332.
“Codex Leicester: Bill Gates Paid $30.8 Million for Leonardo Da Vinci’s Book of Ideas and Theories, Including That of ‘Planetshine.’” The Vintage News, The Vintage News, 8 June 2018, www.thevintagenews.com/2018/05/09/codex-leicester/.
“World Reading Habits in 2018 (Infographic).” Global English Editing, 1 Jan. 2019, https://geediting.com/world-reading-habits-2018/.
“500 Million Harry Potter Books Sold Worldwide.” Pottermore, www.pottermore.com/news/500-million-harry-potter-books-have-now-been-sold-worldwide.
Thelwell, Emma. “The next Harry Potter Words to Join the Dictionary?” BBC News, BBC, 13 Apr. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/uk-39586989.
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