I don’t know what sort of methodology Yahoo! Maktoob used in their survey about Arab reading habits. Their website seems to indicate—understandably—that they conduct surveys online. A press release does at least note that “The survey polled 3,503 people in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.”

For such a large area, 3,503 seems like a pretty small sample. And what level of educational attainment? Class? Gender? How many from each country? I couldn’t find a longer report.

In any case, the picture is not cheery. Emirates 24/7 sums up the research with the headline “25% of Arabs ‘never’ or ‘hardly’ read books.” Oddly enough, this echoes an Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted in the United States in 2007, which the Washington Post headlined “One in Four Read No Books Last Year.”

Among respondents, Yahoo! Maktoob called those in Jordan, Lebanon and Algeria “the worst offenders,” with more than 30 percent saying they never or hardly ever read. Meanwhile, respondents in Bahrain, Egypt and Morocco were the “biggest book lovers.”

These results are near opposite an Ipsos six-country survey done last year, which put the UAE first in reading, followed by Lebanon and Jordan. Egypt was dead last.

So perhaps all this should be taken with a few spoonfuls of salt.

Most interestingly, the Yahoo! Maktoob survey offers data about readers’ genre preferences. Their press release states:

Historical fiction is the most popular genre of literature in the Arab world with 14 percent of the overall vote, political comes in after that with 12 percent of the vote.

In Bahrain and Qatar crime/detective books are particularly popular, while in Algeria and Egypt action/adventure is the big draw.

In Saudi Arabia romance is the most popular genre of all.

And poets, take heart! After romance, poetry was listed as the fourth most popular genre overall, ahead of both “crime/detective” and “action/adventure.” Of course, it would be useful to pair these results with sales data from bookshops across the region.

The survey further asked the 3,503 respondents for their “favorite authors.”  Nobel Prize winning Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was No. 1, followed by Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, best-selling Algerian author Ahlam Mosteghanemi, Sudanese author Tayeb Salih, and Palestinian-American theorist Edward Said. Best-selling Egyptian authors Alaa al-Aswany and Youssef Zeidan also made the top 10, as did—surprisingly, to me—feminist author Nawal al-Saadawi.

Most popular tweet on the topic:

@fadig: Dismal Arab reading habits:Isn’t it time we revolutionize our school system. Reform is not enough

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