There are lots of things that irritate me: the plastic wrap publishers put on their books here in Cairo so that I can’t thumb through the first few pages; sloppy, careless translations and sloppy, careless print runs; the surfeit of terrific children’s books in Arabic.
But high among my irritations—yes, quite high—is the conflation of one Arab nation with the whole MENA region.
Here, the Guardian books blog asks if the “Arab world” is ready for a reading revolution, although the piece is really about Abdo Khal and the Kingdom. No, a line is thrown out about censorship in Egypt—and it’s true, we censor!—but the one line might lead you to believe Abdo Khal is censored here as he is in the KSA.
However, Abdo Khal’s She Throws Sparks (or, if you insist, Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles) is available. Indeed, the book was on Kotob Khan’s February bestseller list, but then fell off in March, although my personal favorite from the shortlist—Mohamed Mansi Qandil’s Cloudy Day on the West—is still on.
Perhaps there are similarities in the literary crises in Egypt and the KSA. However, in Egypt, 97 percent of households surveyed said they don’t buy books because they can’t afford them. Is the same thing the case in Saudi, Kuwait, and the Emirates?
I can’t entirely blame Gaurdian blogger Maya Jaggi, as Arab authors also can talk about the Arab world as a monolith. In a recent interview, Saudi author Youssef al Mohaimeed said that he aimed to explain the Arab psyche in much the way Murakami highlights the Japanese. And to this I say: Bon chance!