As reading and books decline in popularity, days such as World Book and Copyright Day allow for the exploration of literature and its importance as an expanding form.

World Book and Copyright Day 2022 has given a platform for a focus on literature’s importance and relevance in a time of shrinking readership and changing literary traditions.  

April 23 is a symbolic day in the world of literature, most notably it is the date that William Shakespeare died in 1616. In 1995, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation declared the date as one of tribute to books and authors worldwide. The Day of the Book, as it is also known, in 2022 can shed light on the changes in reading traditions and the growing threats to literature. 

‘’It is not that literature is at risk, but it definitely is changing,’’ says Professor Christopher Thurman of the Wits English studies department. He says people of the world are, “reading even if they are not reading traditional texts”. Although illiteracy amongst those in the global south is still a problem, the ability to read has increased over time, says Thurman.  

Dr Visvaganthie Moodley, a senior lecturer in the language, literacy, and literatures division at the Wits school of education says, “[People are] reading, [it is] what people are reading [that] is the problem.” She notes that among students, obligatory assessment-driven reading is being done, however, whether students are inspired to read for leisure purposes, she is “unsure”.  

According to both Moodley and Thurman, the change in the literature-scape has been significantly influenced by social media. Attention spans have grown shorter with the introduction of social media and that has taken a toll on the reading of books, which requires patience for their long form.  

First-year theatre and performing arts student Hannah Lever, has a passion for reading and has formed a “great community” around it. Social media has not distracted her from literature, rather, it has given her an expanded space to explore and dissect literary works. She says together #booktok and #bookstagram provide platforms for book-loving communities on social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.  

In relation to social media, platforms such as Wattpad and short story telling through Instagram, blogs or even WhatsApp accounts, have also seen an influx of both creators and readers. Sibabalwe Dyaphu, another first-year theatre and performing arts student and an avid reader says, “Traditional literature might be dead, however, the art-form has expanded.”

Thurman says, reading expands attentive and critical skills that help a person read all the signs of the world, and that new and growing forms of producing words are “not detrimental to the culture of reading and writing books”.


FEATURED IMAGE: A bookshelf of classics. World Book and Copyright Day 2022 promotes the enjoyment of books and of reading around the world, no matter the form. Photo: Elishevah Bome