[FOUNTAIN]Bookworms can rise to great heights

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[FOUNTAIN]Bookworms can rise to great heights

“From childhood until I turned 21, I never stopped reading, even for a day. I beamed with happiness whenever I was able to have a new book. When my family and relatives saw me laughing, they assumed I had been reading something strange.”
That excerpt is from “Ganseochijeon,” a memoir by Lee Deok-moo (1741-1793). Mr. Lee was a realist philosopher who was central to the Joseon Dynasty’s Renaissance under King Jeongjo. The book is a recollection of his youth.
Mr. Lee called himself a ganseochi, or bookworm, by which he meant a fool who does nothing but read. A similar Korean term is seochi, a fool who only reads and cares nothing about the world.
In his memoir, Mr. Lee lamented the fact that he spent his youth only reading books, paying no attention to his family affairs, even as his mother and his younger sister died from malnutrition.
Despite his hardships, he never stopped reading, and he developed an impressive knowledge of world affairs. His abilities led to great accomplishments.
It is impossible to imagine the Renaissance of the Jeongjo period without Mr. Lee. At the age of 39, he was appointed the first librarian of Gyujanggak, the royal library. He served in the post for 15 years, and King Jeongjo gave him 520 different gifts. This demonstrates that his reading was not a fruitless pursuit.
One of the many well-known bookworms in European history was Napoleon. During his invasion of Russia in 1812, he sent orders to his librarians for stimulating new books. Before they could arrive, Napoleon had retreated, beaten by the brutal Russian winter. During his exile on the island of St. Helena, Napoleon’s belongings included a library of 8,000 books.
Last Saturday was World Book and Copyright Day, established by Unesco in 1995. The date April 23 was chosen because it is the date of the “books and roses” festival of the Catalonia region of Spain.
In Catalonia, the date coincides with its holiday St. George’s Day, and with the anniversary of the death of the great Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes. On April 23, a Catalan man presents a rose to his lover, who gives him a book in return. This tradition began in 1926.
Those of us who missed World Book and Copyright Day should celebrate it next year by visiting bookstores with our families, or our lovers. Some bookstores offer their customers books and roses to mark the day. We needn’t become bookworms, but we should remember this: Readers are leaders.

by Lee Se-jung

The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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