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Books parade their importance

Reading and walking - the book parade in 2007 swissinfo

The book is alive and kicking despite competition from the television and the internet, say the organisers of events in Switzerland to mark World Book Day.

This content was published on April 23, 2008 - 08:11

Visitors can literally see books in action as book parades – where people join a procession reading aloud from their favourite tomes – will take place in four towns and cities on Wednesday.

World Book and Copyright Day, as designated by the United Nations cultural body Unesco, is held each year on April 23.

This date is considered symbolic as it is the date of death in 1616 of both British playwright William Shakespeare and Spanish literary genius Cervantes.

For Unesco it is paramount to celebrate "the many functions of the book in the life of human society".

"Books contribute to shaping and maintaining the educational, cultural and economic fabric of our societies, and play multiple and fundamental roles in it," said Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of Unesco, in his message for the occasion.

Switzerland will be holding around 150 events to mark the day, including book parades – an original Swiss idea – in Zurich, Biel, St Gallen and Lucerne.

Started by the Bookparade association last year, the first one through Zurich's old town attracted around 300 bookworms. This year the organisers are hoping for up to 1,000 people.

Opening up books

"It was important for us to generate more attention for books and to do something out on the streets and not only in schools or literary centres," the association's vice president Anna Kulp told swissinfo.

Kulp said World Book Day was a great idea, especially for young people and children. "I think almost every nation needs encouraging because you can't read too much," she said.

The World Book Day Switzerland committee, which is run by the Swiss book lobby group, will be handing out "Sur les routes de Pakistan" (On the roads of Pakistan) by the late Geneva author Nicolas Bouvier for its book day theme "reading means travelling".

The committee's Andrea Zimmermann said books were still being read but they needed a bit of help.

"It's more and more difficult for books to be able to fight against other media like television or the internet, so we want to tell people that the book is still important," she told swissinfo.

"We should draw attention to this medium which is one of the oldest in the world."

Authors' difficulties

Authors do not always have an easy time either, as the followers of Literaturblog, a daily dairy kept by seven Swiss writers, found. It was online during the first three months of this year and makes its debut in book form on Wednesday.

"The idea was to give the readers a glimpse behind the scenes so that they get an idea of what writing is really all about," said Sabina Altermatt, the project's coordinator and one of the authors featured.

"It was very interesting, some authors wrote that they can't always be writing... they had to earn their living as well, as not everyone can live from writing," she told swissinfo.

Altermatt has had success both domestically and abroad with her three crime novels, featuring female investigators solving murders in Zurich and Graubünden.

But she said that Switzerland was a small country and it was not always easy to break into the bigger neighbouring markets of France or Germany.

In addition, the net book agreement which fixes the price of books in German-speaking areas of the country has been stopped and there is less support given to cultural promotion. "It's a difficult situation for authors," said Altermatt.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Zurich

World Book Day

April 23 is World Book and Copyright Day. It is organised by Unesco, the United Nations' cultural body.

Unesco says April 23 is symbolic for world literature because on this date in 1616 Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Cervantes, British playwright Shakespeare and Peruvian historian and writer Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, author of the infamous novel Lolita.

The event is aimed at paying tribute to books and authors and encouraging especially young people to discover the pleasure of reading and literature.

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