April 23rd is the International Day of the Book. It’s official—the UN passed a declaration about it in 1995. Why did they pick that date? Well, it’s Shakespeare’s birthday, for one thing. It’s also La Diada de Sant Jordi, a major holiday in Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia since the fifteenth century. In English, we call it St. George’s Day.
Historically, Catalonian men gave women roses on that day, and women gave men a book to celebrate the occasion—”a rose for love and a book forever.” In modern times, the books go to both genders, and half of all books sold in the region every year are exchanged on April 23rd.
A few years ago, an independent bookstore in Austin, Texas decided to bring this tradition to the US. At the time, the employees at BookPeople were very excited about a new novel called The Angel’s Game by Barcelona native Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It’s a marvelously atmospheric thriller that features a secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge library of old, forgotten titles lovingly preserved by a select few. According to tradition, each initiate of this clandestine place is allowed to take one book from it and must protect it for life. So the good people of BookPeople each chose a favorite volume that had fallen out of favor, and they spent the month around St. George’s Day promoting those titles and competing to see which one reached the most new readers.
Flash forward to 2013, when we at Island Books have decided to steal … er, borrow this fabulous idea and create our own Library of Forgotten Books. Our highly literate staff has selected an assortment of wonderful volumes that haven’t gotten the love they deserve. At least not lately. There’s a little something for everyone on the list. Our selections include a heartfelt memoir of a marriage of opposites, essays on old New York, and writing about the singular pleasures of the table, not to mention novels of death and war, love and delight, and the unfettered possibilities of the imagination.
Give one (or more) of them a good home, won’t you? Though they’re not brand new, the stories are far from stale. Of course you can visit our website to see all the titles, but you’ll want to come into the store to page through them in person. Books like these are most alive when you hold them in your hands. As they say in Catalonia, a book is forever. As long as someone remembers it.