Children did not read for pleasure when I was growing up. There wasn’t a reading culture as such, and many of my friends thought it strange when I chose to devour a book on an aeroplane rather than tune into the in-flight entertainment.
I have my parents to thank for that. Every holiday, we’d visit the local library or bookstore at our travel destination to buy books written by local authors.
Now, thanks to the efforts of the UAE Government and the UAE Reads Initiative, children and adults across the Arab World are being encouraged to read more. Government and private entities in the UAE have even set up libraries and cafes on their premises to cultivate a reading culture. In the UAE’s Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development building, for example, employees and visitors can grab a coffee from the Happiness Café and a book from the shelves located in the Ministry’s ground floor.
Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan Al Nahyan’s Wanna Read? initiative is also a great example. The non-profit organisation encourages children to read during their rehabilitation in UAE hospitals, by providing book trolleys or reading rooms.
Every year we see the emergence of new Emirati writers, with Sharjah’s Book Authority recently unveiling the country’s first edition of the Emirati Book Fair, an annual event promoting the works of UAE publishers and writers.
However, more needs to be done, especially as we aim to instil a reading habit in children that lasts a lifetime. There is a real opportunity for bookstores to get on board because sometimes we need to bring the books to readers, instead of the other way around.
In the United States, for instance, non-profit groups such as Libraries Without Borders take books and story reading to laundries through their Wash and Learn Initiative. Children often spend hours watching their clothes being washed especially on the weekend, and instead of having them just sit there or play games on their iPad, they are encouraged to read in the waiting area. It's a brilliant idea with children grabbing a book to read in the same way we grab magazines while we wait for a medical appointment.
This initiative could be adopted by one of our local bookstores, with micro shops operating in waiting areas, bus stops or schools. They could feature book trolleys or kiosks or even book vending machines; machines can operate 24 hours a day, making them economical due to low overheads.
I visited a nail salon in Dubai recently and was offered an iPad to watch Netflix as I waited. While I liked the idea of immersing myself in a show, I also thought it would be great if they had a small library or a Kindle device with a selection of books already downloaded.
A similar idea could be adopted by airlines with both physical and downloaded books for passengers to read or purchase. The concept could be extended to public transport such as ferries and buses allowing passengers to read and build their knowledge during the daily commute.
Reading is important and we’ve come a long way in the UAE and the Arab World when it comes to cultivating a reading culture. Businesses have a role to play here too, which is why bookstores and publishers must get creative.
It’s no longer just about having customers physically come to the store, but about creating a desire to read and more opportunities to get immersed in books.
Great businesses create new opportunities, so let's create a generation that is passionate about reading and expanding its knowledge.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi