The (Slowish) Rise of Online Arabic Book Clubs

The social-media and citizen-journalism collective 7iber’s announcement that the group will be launching an Arabic book club reminded me, belatedly, of an 2010 article I’d read by Dr. Amany Elsayed: “Arab online book clubs: A survey.”

7iber, based in Jordan, promises to bring new life to the landscape Elsayed describes. But her paper is nonetheless worth exploring.

Dr. Elsayed begins with some debatable tenets—such as the assertion that reading undeniably leads humans “from darkness into light.” She makes some questionable statements about Egypt’s “public” (ahem) libraries. However, she also conducts one of the first scholarly surveys, if not the first, of the Arabic-reading world’s online book clubs.

Elsayed focuses on seven groups, all either based in Egypt or the KSA: the Egypt-based Arab World book club, which is the biggest and oldest online Arabic book club, founded in 1998; the Saudi-based Iqra’, founded in 2005; the Saudi-based Tawaq Reading Group, founded in 2007; the Saudi-based Qon Qari Forum, established in 2008; the Saudi “Book Rating Club,” a Facebook group set up in 2009; the Egyptian-run Facebook group “Let’s Read a Book Monthly,” est. 2009; and Nadi al-Quraa al-Arab, also set up in 2009.

Based on questionnaires sent to these seven groups, Elsayed concludes:

The findings revealed that despite low participation and superficial discussion, and lack of services provided to readers, Arab online book clubs are becoming a promising environment to promote reading, and motivate people of all ages to contribute and exchange ideas because these clubs have arisen with a primary objective to promote and enhance reading.

Basically, it seems, Elsayed was disappointed with what she found. But—after all—they are book clubs, so they must be doing something. Right?

Elsayed criticized the groups lack of services, and also criticized Arab publishers, saying that they are generally “unaware of the potential of online book clubs as a non-traditional marketing tool.” While I think a number of publishers have started to use Facebook and Twitter effectively, Elsayed is perhaps right about a general lack of book-club encouragement. She cites book-club-friendly reading guides as one place for publishers to begin.

She also calls on literary festivals, school libraries, public libraries, and others to get involved in the online book-club business.

Other Online Book Clubs (in Arabic):

@ArabicBookClub is based in Dubai, and—while it was active in 2010—seems to have been dormant thus far in 2011.

نادي الكتاب العربي is a Saudi-based Facebook group.

If you have the right friends, Youssef Rakha describes Facebook as a virtual literary feast, of sorts.

The Goodreads group Arabic Books is a bit of a free-for-all.

Online Arabic Book Clubs (in English):

Read Kutub discussions take place in person, so it’s not really an online group, but they have a great deal of information about their books online, and are ripe for an online component to the discussion. You just need to suggest a way for them to make it happen. Or we should. Or someone should.

GoodReads has a group discussing books that some participants are reading in English and others in Arabic at “Middle East/North African Lit.”

I’m sure I’m missing many others… And a belated thanks to Deena Dajani for sending along the article.