What Will Spur Reading in the Arab World?

I believe this supports Maya's point.

A recent post from 7iber.com (ink.com) rattled off a few of the recent literary initiatives in the Arabic-writing and -reading world: Beirut39, the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (Arabic Booker), the KALIMA project, Bloomsbury-Qatar Publishing Foundation.

The site then asked:

What do you think of all these initiatives? What’s your say on the state of publishing and reading in Jordan and the region? Do you read Arabic-language books or books by Arab authors? Who are your favorites? What do you think can be done to create a new culture of reading in Jordan?

I thought the most concise answer came from Nibal Al-Rabadi. And to him I say: yes!: 

The problem is culture: you may read a book and enjoy it but if there is no reading culture around you that promotes reading then you’re different. I wish to hear some guys discussing their favourite books or writers the way they discuss how Barcelona performed last night!!!

One poster, calling himself ma7moodjo:

while i do find most of the arabic books and writers un-eloquent and very artificial and pretentious ! nobody try to write simple books they all want the whole ” a7lam sarmadieh tal3ab fee neeeraaan tofolaaah mansaieh …etc “

He continues:

i would rather read a simple book and start from there !

One defender of Arabic literature vs. the spectre of a7lam sarmadieh:

Try other writers for example from the oldies Ghassan Kanafani is really nice and straight to the point ,Ibrahim nassrallah is also straight to the point with a bit symbolism . Abd al rahman munif is hard and complicated but in ideas and events he doesn’t really stray he might be a hard read but he is really worth it …you can also read for fatima al marnissy if you care about woman issues or youssef gheishan for a sarcastic point of view …there are alot around right now …I remember a light read was called “Nara ” I don’t remember the writers name but she is a jordanian woman .trust me this a7lam sarmadieh …is long gone with those contemprary writers.

And Ahmed Hamdan, who reads English books because he’s less likely to encounter the haram:

I prefer reading English Novels and for Old Authors Like Dickens who is my Favourite, the only Arabic books that i might read Are the Quran or books related to Hadith or Islam History, the reason why i don’t read for Arabic Novels because as far as i know or read in news papers many of them use the sex ,love,homosexuality stories in their novel to get attention and sadly they do. As for the one saying Reading is Boring, have you tried Reading before, i know Video Games are great but so is Reading

And Maya Huneidi has a good point, although I think the Dar el-Shorouk books look quite nice, and have well-designed covers.

I think that publishing in the Arab world has a long way to go before it can be improved. I’m not very familiar with Arab authors, nor do I read much in Arabic. Why? Because they do not attract me whatsoever. Admittedly, I’m fluent in both english and arabic. When i’m in a bookstore that sells books of both languages, I immediately go to the english language books.

My main concern is….. just look at the quality of the books. The actual material used (the paper) looks far worse than that you see in English hardbacks or paperbacks, as if it could fall apart or tear easily. Besides that, the cover art/ illustrations are usually awful.

And you? What are your suggestions? I suppose it depends on why you think people read, or should read. For art, aesthetics, meaning, social advancement, escape? I say:

  • Book groups can’t hurt. Let’s start some book clubs/groups. Mommy book groups, young people book groups, old people book groups, men’s book groups where they can talk about things other than Barcelona.
  • Better-looking books, as Maya says, also couldn’t hurt. But I think inexpensive is even more important. Better libraries, easier access to books, updated ways of teaching reading in the schools.
  • Graphic novels! It was a shame that Metro was pulled from shelves. I’d like to see more. I think it’s a transition from the Mickey comics.
  • On the topic of Metro, less censorship probably wouldn’t hurt, either.
  • What else, what else….


  1. How would you articulate it? Why should we read? Why should my son’s classmates read? Their parents?

    1. That’s truly something I’d like to come up with a good answer for and not necessarily one that I have. But I think it’s important since many in the Arab world dismiss literature as a superfluous activity, and while that idea exists in their minds then no matter how good the translations are or how lovely the book covers look, they will find “better” things to do.
      One of the things I say is that reading literature could be a way of reading history, if not of actual events and people, then of ideas and social conditions that constructed the imagination of a particular author.

  2. – A better region-wide distribution network would certainly help, allowing potential readers to choose from a selection of titles encompassing the full breadth of Arabic literature.

    – More young adult literature (preferably from Arab authors, but translations are ok too) so that readers stop falling off the reading track between ages 10 and 20.

    – Finally, make books cheaper! You’ve already mentioned this, but I think it’s a point that can’t be raised often enough.

  3. Yes, YA! This hadn’t really occurred to me, although it’s a good point.

    I can’t say I know any Arabic YA. (Of course, my son’s six, so YA is a while yet in my future.)

    I wonder how one incentivizes authors to do YA. (Paying them for it, probably.) Emily Nasrallah has done YA, hasn’t she?

  4. I am stealing this from a private conversation with bibi, because they’re such good ideas, someone should initiate them:

    all kiosks used to sell cheap mills and boon type of romances and some sort of detective stories (in arabic; i was a total fan of this series called el-ragil el-mustahil — can’t remember the author but they were soooooo bad they totally could be elevated to cult status.). however, even if they only cost one pound it might be too much for the people who’d would actually enjoy them.

    i am a big fan of libraries. maybe it would be interesting to organise “travelling libraries” in popular picnic areas, or in public parks: you could borrow a book to read in the same way you rent a deck chair. you pay a fee, and when you return the book, you get your money back.

  5. AbdulRahman…

    I’ve been thinking about it, and I think people push their children to read in many other countries/societies because it’s a key to social mobility, raising or maintaining social status.

    However, for instance in Egypt—have you read Khaled al-Khamissi’s Taxi? There’s a chapter where a taxi driver says he’s not spending any money on his children’s education, and instead putting that money aside for them to have. And this actually, under the circumstances, seemed rather sensible to me….

    Perhaps people need to believe that education—opening of their children’s minds, exposing their children to new ideas—will really enable their children to have a better life. (Perhaps it even needs to be true…)

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