English-language books popular as Book Month gets into full swing

Official story behind March celebration of literary culture touching, but real reason more prosaic.

Bookstores organise discussions and readings during the Book Month.Bookstores organise discussions and readings during the Book Month. (Source: Sme - Jozef Jakubčo)

In Slovakia, March is many book-lovers’ favourite time of year as shops and libraries - the former often holding public readings and competitions and the latter forgiving fines for late returns - mark Book Month.

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The tradition of Book Month in March dates back almost 70 years to the former communist regime.

But while the official reason to celebrate books in March is given as a tribute to the figure of Matej Hrebenda Hačavský (March 10, 1796 – March 16, 1880), who after going blind as a boy begged people to read to him, the real reasons is much more prosaic.

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Book Month was introduced in March to try and boost weak sales of books between winter, when Christmas drives sales up, and the start of the summer holidays when people traditionally turned back to more avid reading again.

Totalitarian beginnings

It was introduced in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic in 1955 as a joint idea of the Culture Ministry and the Union of Czechoslovak Writers, in cooperation with shops and the four largest publishing houses of the time.

Book Month outlived the communist regime which has created it, though, and has continued since the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

“It is not a ‘legacy of the previous regime’ but rather a nice tradition, when at least once a year books get the attention they deserve,” Juraj Šlesar, marketing manager of the Martinus bookstore chain told The Slovak Spectator, adding that books perform a very important social function.

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Michal Rajter, CEO of Panta Rhei, another of Slovakia’s major bookstore chains, was equally enthusiastic of the March celebration of books.

“Book Month may have been created during the undemocratic regime before 1989, but the idea it expressed is not associated with that regime. It is a tribute to the power of literature that has manifested itself at every stage of human history,” he said.

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