From 'bookstagram' to book club: how two women are sharing their love for reading

Farah and Deema Al Alami are the cousins behind Al Alami Book Club, which has more than 700 members from around the world

Farah Al Alami, left, and her cousin Deema started a virtual book club during the pandemic. Victor Besa / The National
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Farah Al Alami has always been an avid reader thanks to her family and the fond memories they created.

“Since childhood, books have always attracted me and the trips I enjoyed most were those to a bookstore or a library,” she says. “I was surrounded by women reading — namely my mom, aunt and a few of my cousins. Some read English novels and some Arabic, thus I read both languages. I always wanted to grab a book and read.”

However, as Farah got older, she found herself getting busier with other things and had less time to dedicate to the hobby. This was the case in her university days, and during the first few years of her career and marriage. She describes those times as being in a “major reading slump” because she only finished about one book a year.

While family is what helped initially spark her interest, it's also what has inspired her to go back. After her two sons were born, the Abu Dhabi resident realised she wanted them to be more interested in reading too and that the best way to do so would be to set an example through herself.

In 2018, she decided to start a mission to read more. Around the same time, her cousin Deema Al Alami, who is also a children's author, launched her own “bookstagram” — an account on Instagram where she publishes reviews of children’s books in English and Arabic. This helped inspire Farah to follow a similar path, launching her account in 2019.

Currently, Farah has more than 16,000 followers on her Instagram, while Deema has just over 19,000.

However, it was during the pandemic, when things were brought to a standstill and old hobbies were seemingly given new life, that the two decided to join together to create Al Alami Book Club, a virtual meeting space for book lovers.

“As we both have in common the love for books and we were both dedicating our free time to encourage reading amongst our networks on Instagram, we decided to join hands and came up with the idea of our book club,” she says.

Every six to eight weeks, a book is chosen and participants can join in on Zoom to discuss the book with other members — no matter where they are in the world. There are currently 700 members, most of whom are women and range from ages 18 to 65. They are from the UAE as well as countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, the UK and a few in the US and Canada as well.

“The engagement and interest we have received since its launch have been phenomenal and we have new members join us almost every week,” says Farah.

“We are so proud that many of our members are either new to reading, or they were in a reading slump for years and are now back to the habit, and some who are already avid readers and have found our platform and discussions enriching to their reading experience.”

Farah says that the book club is an open space and anyone can participate. To join, send a private message on Instagram to either Farah or Deema or email alalamibookclub@gmail.com.

“Those who prefer to read in [a language] other than English can pick the book in their language. Most of the time, we choose books that are translated to Arabic, Russian and other languages,” she says. “We do a lot of searching, reading reviews, and we try to cover different topics or genres but [stick to] mainly fiction which we found to be the most favourable genre amongst our members.”

Farah says she’s read about 150 books since 2018. Some of her all-time favourites include Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, Colleen Hoover’s Verity, and The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, which was the first book club read.

While Farah is happy to have created a virtual space for people to enjoy, she's even more excited about the feedback she gets, hoping to inspire more people to pick up a book.

"I get messages constantly on how I helped someone get into reading, and how they were inspired to read more, she says. "I feel so proud, and would always dedicate my time to promote reading in any way possible."

10 reading tips from Al Alami Book Club to set an example for children:

  • Encourage your children to read so it grows with them as a habit
  • Choose the genres you mostly enjoy. Don’t pressure yourself with a genre that you don’t like
  • Make it a mission to read at least 10 pages a day — before bedtime ideally
  • Put your gadgets and phone aside, and grab a book
  • Take a book with you when leaving home
  • Read while exercising on a treadmill or on a flight or a road trip
  • Visit a bookshop or book fair
  • Take your children with you when you go book shopping
  • Visit libraries, especially when travelling
  • Join a book club. This will motivate you to finish books and will make you excited to discuss them with others who read it

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