The first day of the Sharjah International Book Fair has been proof that young people in the UAE, and the region, are as enthusiastic as ever about reading and books.
Throughout the day, children, families and book lovers of all ages — fittingly, this year's fair is titled Spread the Word — explored the five monumental halls at the Expo Centre Sharjah.
A staple of the emirate's cultural calendar, the Sharjah International Book Fair has entered its 41st event with 2,213 publishers from 95 countries sharing their books, ranging from fiction, memoirs and children’s books to rare manuscripts.
Despite the challenges of working in the age of smartphones and streaming, publishers are out in full force, attracting large crowds of visitors to their booths with all manner of offerings.
Hall 1, the Intellectual Hall, is hosting a diverse range of publishers from across the Arab world, hailing from the UAE, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Oman, Bahrain and Sudan. These include larger commercial publishers specialising in educational content, as well as smaller publishers focused on novels and translated works of fiction.
Many are displaying the authors or books that best represent the literary landscape of their countries. However, it is interesting to note that throughout Hall 1, often displayed front and centre are titles from three specific genres.
The first is memoirs, written or translated into Arabic — ranging from political figures such as Saddam Hussein and Barack Obama to classic Arab artists including Egyptian actress and singer Soad Hosny and Syrian-Egyptian singer and actor Farid Al Atrash.
The second is an array of international bestselling fiction titles translated into Arabic — including classics such as George Orwell’s 1984, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Demons, as well as contemporary novels including Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak and Kevin Kwan’s hugely popular trilogies Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.
Most of the book covers of the contemporary translated novels are the same as their original counterpart, with some alterations to accommodate Arabic fonts. The theory around book cover design in the West has been developed into a fine art, where a vast amount of market research and money has been expended in creating compelling visuals to draw a prospective reader’s attention, before they've even read the book's title.
It is unfortunate to see that this vital means of connecting with readers has yet to be embraced by many Arabic publishers — particularly those in the business of publishing adult fiction, which remains weighed down by poor font, colour and image selection. This lack of attention to the visual aspect of reading unfairly positions even the most riveting Arabic books within the international publishing landscape.
However, this doesn't seem to be the case when it comes to the third popular genre, children’s books. There is a variety of diverse children’s Arabic titles on show, mostly educational, where much thought and effort has clearly been placed into the design and packaging of these books.
Other halls are displaying international stands from countries such as Turkey, Canada, the Philippines, France and this year's guest of honour, Italy.
One of the most inspiring aspects of the festival is the number of high school children looking through books and talking to publishers and booksellers. Without a smartphone in sight, most of the pupils are excited to examine a range of books in the international section.
Elsewhere, the Peter Harrington Rare Books booth is displaying pages of an ancient Quran written in Kufic script and a 1997 first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in paperback.
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Library booth, meanwhile, is also showcasing some wonderful memorabilia, which caught the attention of students and adults on the first day.
These include the first Avengers comic, featuring Thor, Ant-Man, the Hulk and Iron Man from 1963, a first edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl from 1964 and a first edition of Prince Caspian from the Narnia series by C S Lewis from 1951.
Unsurprisingly, some of the most popular booths are those selling English young adult fiction. These include fantasy series such as Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan, Game of Thrones by George R R Martin, The School for aGood and Evil by Soman Chainani and a number of graphic novels and comics.
Not only have these books recently been adapted to shows or movies, but they've also been packaged in a way that reflects the clear, gripping visuals that make the book feel as precious as the stories inside.
The Sharjah International Book Fair runs until November 13 at Expo Centre Sharjah. More information is at www.sibf.com