Capital needs better book shops

Dubai is well served by a couple of marvellous book stores, massively and gloriously laid out. The capital, in contrast has nowhere, unfortunately, that encourages lingering among the aisles.

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Abu Dhabi will shortly host the 20th edition of its International Book Fair, a considerable landmark for book lovers. Over the years it has welcomed a number of literary luminaries from around the world. This latest event is no exception, with Algeria's Ahlam Mosteghanemi, Canada's Yann Martel and India's Amit Chaudhuri all expected to attend, along with many others. And it appears that as well as wanting to listen to authors, people are keen to write too. M magazine, which appears with this paper every Saturday, has just run a short-story competition, which will be judged by Adam Haslett, an American short-story writer. Last year, it received nearly 50 entries. This year it is closer to a hundred, with entrants aged from nine to 90, and from all across the region and even from Britain and Canada.
There is also a business element to the fair. Abu Dhabi is aiming to become a hub of the Arab book trade, and a point of reference for booksellers, publishers and distributors in the region. This is wonderfully laudable. But could we also put in a plea for the reader? As Francis Bacon said: "Books, they are true friends, that will neither flatter nor dissemble." How true, but in Abu Dhabi, how hard it is to get one's hands on them. Dubai is well served by a couple of marvellous book stores, massively and gloriously laid out. The capital, in contrast, has a number of much smaller outfits, nowhere, unfortunately, that encourages lingering among the aisles in search of new friends.
Among the new malls springing up this year, let's hope there is an enlightened developer who will save a prime spot for something literary. As well, one hopes that one of the existing booksellers then will be able to take up such an opportunity to construct a book emporium befitting of the capital. For the best way to encourage reading among the very young, and to nurture the habit in those older of pleasurable encounters with words and the imagery they conjure is to have books and loads more books available for discoveries by serendipity.
This is one of those few times when a massive surfeit is a virtue.

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