I've always been fascinated by America's passion with books. I had a chance to witness this again, at the National Book Festival held this weekend at the National Mall in Washington DC. It was a virtual Divisoria of books, scores of authors in their respective genres dissecting, discussing, discoursing their creations and what drives them to write.
What struck me most was the focus on children. It was obvious that Americans start their romance with literature early, and in a manner that appears to be fun and unobtrusive. Books become a tool not only of learning, but of creating, of flexing and ventilating the imagination, and in this way perhaps, reinforce the unlimited human genius.
But at the same time, the US book publishing industry is worried about the decline in output. Great Britain, not the United States, is the world's per capita leader in the publication of new books in any language.
The decrease was reportedly felt in general adult fiction and children's books -- the two dominant categories in the US. Religion, biography, history and technology were said to have suffered the biggest declines.
But you wouldn't know that's true from the huge crowd who trooped to the book festival. The average retail price of adult hardcover books is $27.55, adult book paperbacks about $14-$15.
"Books," Charles Eliot said, "are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers". A good book is indeed a welcome, comforting companion in all weather and moods, but most especially in times when we are alone.