The Bard was born on April 23, St George's Day. Saint George is the patron saint of books, and Shakespeare refers to him in Henry V, with the immortal line, 'Cry God for England, Harry and Saint George!'
These two came to mind when I heard it was International Literacy Day on September 8.
I love books, as anyone will testify if they've visited the presbytery at Havant: I have bookcases bulging with hardbacks, paperbacks and periodicals. I recently thumbed through a dog-eared paperback from childhood, and memories flooded back.
When people hear the word 'literacy' they think of grammar, linguistics and tests. While learning the mechanics of a language is important it is also imperative we inspire the young to love literature, a gift that will keep giving.
Reading is a passport to new worlds, exotic cultures, jaw-dropping adventures. Pope Francis recently described literature as 'the bread of souls and (an) expression of the human spirit'.
Even in our digital world, the public still prefer books, printed, bound and, sometimes, tea-stained. Studies have shown people retain information better if it's printed on paper. Books satisfy the senses in a way iPads never can; the texture of a first edition in your hands; the tang of freshly printed paper on the nostrils.
A good novel will transport the reader away from troubles they have. It provides respite from stress as they're forced to concentrate. In an age, when young people spend increasing amounts of time online, exposed to threats to their mental wellbeing, perhaps we should introduce millennials to the earliest influencers of all: Shakespeare, Dickens – two authors whose work continues to resonate with each new generation.
Through the prose of playwrights and poets, we gain insight and perspective. Encouraging people to dive into a book could be just the antidote that we need in our troubled world.
A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.You can subscribe here for unlimited access to our online coverage, including Pompey, for 27p a day.