On Taking Beirut’s Bookoholics to 80,000 Readers & Beyond

Hoda Marmar is the administrator of the popular bilingual “Bookoholics” group in Beirut, which recently celebrated its sixth anniversary and which has, in those six years, discussed 125 books in Arabic and English:

Reading is often seen as a solo activity. But Bookoholics founder Hoda Marmar knows that to reach that private place with a book, a reader must be supported by a robust literary community. This community is made up not only of authors, editors, translators, designers, printers and publishers, but also of book-bloggers, book-tweeters, chatty librarians and fellow bibliophiles. Even for readers who are introverts, community is an essential part of the literary sports.

Yet book-group boosters and organisers remain an unsung part of literary landscape. Particularly when there is a lack of literary infrastructure, we rely on them to spread the word about new books, encourage readers, organise events and act as reading coaches.

Hoda Marmar is one of these tireless and under-celebrated coaches, who cheers on Beirutʹs community of readers. She holds down several jobs – teacher, tutor, proof-reader, research assistant, ticketing agent – but managing Bookoholics is her passion.

An early bibliophile

Marmar has been a reader for as long as she can remember. From a young age, she felt a “sense of wonder whenever I opened a book.” But while middle-school teachers encouraged her bibliophilia, she wanted to share her love with others. After finishing a book, she says, she would be bursting with things to say. “As a child and a teen, I could not contain my overwhelmed feelings and felt the urge to share that book and those feelings with others.”

Growing up, she said, she fell in love with books by Toufik Youssef Awwad and Mikhail Naimy in Arabic and Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire in French. Later, novels helped her learn English and she gradually moved from simple texts to complex and layered language.

In 2010, Marmar was working at her universityʹs library. There, she enjoyed helping match readers – from beginners to instructors – with the right books. “I tried to start a book club at the university, but it wasnʹt a priority to students or to the university. I then reached out online to readers residing in Lebanon and with steady baby steps, I was able to announce the first book club meeting on July 18, 2012, in a coffee shop in Hamra Street in Beirut.”

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