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It sounds like a riddle: How could two of history's greatest writers have died on the same date, yet one outlived the other by 10 days? Simply put, the answer is in the calendar.
When "Don Quixote" author Miguel de Cervantes died in Spain on April 23, 1616, his demise was marked on the Gregorian calendar -- the same one we use today. But when William Shakespeare died 10 days later, his homeland of England was still going by the Julian calendar, and even though it was May 3 in Spain, it was still April 23 in England. It wasn't until more than a century later that England followed much of the rest of the world, cutting 10 days out of its year to comply with the Gregorian calendar.
To make matters even more confusing, historians now believe that Cervantes actually died on April 22, rather than April 23.
Regardless of these dating discrepancies, UNESCO decided that April 23 was of enough literary significance to designate it as the International Day of the Book. Interestingly, several other writers were either born or died on April 23, including Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla, Manuel Mejía Vallejo, Maurice Druon, and Halldór Laxness.
Mark your literary calendars:
- People all over the world gather to read James Joyce's "Ulysses" every June 16 ("Bloomsday"), the day on which the action of the novel takes place.
- Ernest Hemingway fans celebrate his work in Key West, Florida, every July, with events including marlin fishing and a Hemingway lookalike contest.
- National Read Across America Day, March 2, is also known as Dr. Seuss Day, and many students come to class in pajamas and funny hats.