(Since twenty years it’s become part of my annual routine to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair in every October. It is billed as the biggest Book Fair in the world, and is attended by hundreds of thousands of publishers, authors, compilers, editors, distributors, copyright agents, book production experts, digital copy makers etc. Over 7000 publishers showcase their best titles which amount to millions of books in most languages of the world, from every culture, region and disciple and in every conceivable format – from paper books to e-books. Frankfurt Book Fair transports one into an experience of delving into the sea of knowledge and information, entertainment and imagination and everything that printed books can offer. Someone has truly said, “A book is not a book unless it is an experience”.)
Even in this digital age when skeptics have already begun to write off printed books, people still flock to book fairs, libraries and bookstores to search for their favourite author’s works or their topics of special interest and need. Frankfurt book fair eloquently shows that printed paper books are not going out of fashion any time soon although e-books are becoming popular by leaps and bounds. The pleasure of curling up with a good book is unparallel. Paper books have been man’s companions since Gutenberg invented printing press and made mass production possible. Frankfurt Book Fair makes it possible for books transcend boundaries of nations and languages. The purpose of this mega festival of books is to exchange them for translating into other languages, or producing them as local editions so that they are made available to the masses of people who would otherwise have no access to those titles.
Books are perhaps man’s best companion in his earthly journey. Francois Muriac spoke of the importance of reading good books: “Tell me what you read and I'll tell you who you are”. This is another way of saying: “I'd know you better if you told me what you read.” Books bring people knowledge that in turn effects development and better quality of life. Victor Hugo says: “To learn to read is to light a fire. Every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” Records show that in sub-Saharan Africa, several communities are experiencing incredible transformation by reading the books they receive as donation from more developed parts of the world. They travel several miles on foot every week to collect their ration of two books-a-week from the libraries. They rely heavily on the knowledge that these books bring them in order to learn the basic skills of small industries and business, disease control and sanitation, religious tenets and human rights. Having thus enlightened with the aid of books, these people begin to enjoy higher confidence level and quality of life which we call a silent revolution in true development. Elizabeth Hardwick says: The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, and it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.” Next time when we take a book for granted and allow it to collect dust in our shelf, or throw a book away because it is too boring or old, or burn it ashes in order to make space in our house, we need to remember, there are millions out there thirsting for knowledge that these very books could quench.