Every year the Czech Ministry of Culture and the Association of Czech Libraries awards the title Knight of the Order of the Beautiful Word to over a dozen children who have discovered the joy of reading and to selected actors and writers who have helped to bring the magic of the spoken or written word to the youngest generation. This year, for the first time ever, one of those admitted to the select club is a member of the Czech expat community abroad – nine-year-old Jerry Mech from Chicago.
Reading Helps is a long-running project founded by businessman Martin Roman to counter worsening reading skills among children and youths in the Czech Republic registered in a past International Student Assessment (which compared the results of 34 countries). Children who complete books recommended by a special jury gain credit to go to charities of their choice. The project has raised millions to help - teaching kids not only a love of reading but also showing how they can contribute to a better society.
In recent years literacy experts have expressed concern that children are not reading enough for pleasure and that many youngsters are never read to by their parents. They claim that children who are left to fill their own time, watching TV and playing computer games may be at a serious disadvantage later on in life. In an effort to offset this alarming trend a Czech NGO is organizing an annual week of events to provide inspiration for a habit that may turnaround a child’s life.
March is national reading month in the Czech Republic, with special events taking place all around the country. There has always been a strong reading culture in the country, but with all the new technologies available do Czechs still have time to read? What kind of books do they prefer and how much time do they devote to reading?
Thousands of libraries around the country are celebrating National Library Week with events aimed at drawing more people to these public institutions and highlighting what they have to offer. Some are inviting people to come and tango, others have selected readings by popular children’s authors while library staff in Ostrava have taken to the streets to reward anyone seen reading a book.
This year saw a considerable rise in the sale of electronic books and e-book readers in the Czech Republic. According to the internet server Huereka.cz, the number of e-books sold in July 2012 saw a year-on-year increase of 43%. E-books now make up one percent of all books sold in the Czech Republic, compared to 0.03% last year. The most popular genres of books downloaded in electronic form in Czech are fantasy and detective fiction. The increasing popularity of e-book readers in the country is partly due to their quickly decreasing prices. The average price for an e-book reader fell by a third from last year, to 3,049 Czech crowns, while for an e-book it is 169 crowns, according to Huereka.cz.
If you live in the United States or many parts of Western Europe, you will almost certainly have come across e-books. Downloading books electronically has become a major part of the business of publishing and selling books, and e-book readers like Amazon’s “Kindle” are selling in their millions. But how does the situation compare in the Czech Republic? David Vaughan finds out more in this week’s Czech Books.
For the first time since 2005, there has been a fall in the number of books published in the Czech Republic. A regular survey by the Czech National library shows that the number of books published in 2009 was about a thousand lower than the previous year. However, despite the decrease Czechs still rank among the most avid readers in Europe and overall sales of books remain pretty much on the same level.
The audiobook is enjoying record popularity around Europe at the moment - sales are thought to be rising by 15% on average each year. The growth of the medium might be slightly slower in the Czech Republic than say, in neighbouring Germany, but both publishers and booksellers here are getting in on the action. And an increasing number of Czech household names are stepping up to read from the Czech literary canon.
Reading has friends in some very high places here in the Czech Republic. Last week, former president Vaclav Havel and a group of other famous names besides got together to encourage parents to read to their children for at least twenty minutes a day. To support the cause, Mr. Havel and friends chose their own favourite children's book, and read from it, to an audience of young Czechs, up way past their bed time.