A book lover's day at the Sharjah International Book Fair

Which works of literature will capture the attention in a world of digital distractions?

A selection of books the writer chose at this year's Sharjah International Book Fair. Liza Ayach / The National
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Embarking on a journey to the Sharjah International Book Fair is like diving into a sea of literary possibilities. It's a tempting adventure despite my busy schedule and the continuing Israel-Gaza war, which persistently tugs at my thoughts.

As a journalist, my eyes have become protest signs, demanding a break after enduring more than eight hours of screen and reading time. Who in their right mind would willingly subject themselves to more ocular adventures?

Yet, with no time or energy to read, here I am at the heart of Expo Centre Sharjah, drawn to the world of words.

Lost in the crowd

Among the diverse crowd at the entrance, I wonder if today's children share the same excitement for tangible books as I did in my youth. In the age of digital distractions, I question whether the magic of flipping through pages can still rival the fascination of screens.

Swiftly dismissing sociological musings, I focus on my mission – a brief yet purposeful visit – prompting me to have a moment of reflection: what books currently interest me, and how have my literary tastes evolved with time?

As I explore the bookshelves in the halls, I grapple with an aversion to “true story” books.

It's not a disdain for reality. Rather, my scepticism arises from authors spicing up narratives with drama or embellishment. While not doubting their sincerity, this suspicion lingers, driven by a craving for life's unfiltered truth, free from artistic varnish.

A captivating journey from Mata Hari to my own war-torn odyssey

Breaking my own rules, I find myself captivated by the partly true story of Mata Hari in The Spy by Paulo Coelho. Hari was a Dutch woman who defied societal norms and faced the consequences of her choices.

I become intrigued by the idea of writing my own life story, shaped by surviving a multifaceted 17-year war in Lebanon. I'm convinced that if I were to pen an autobiography, I'd attract a horde of readers eager to explore the rollercoaster of my life.

I walk away with the book in my hand, feeling victorious.

Navigating wisdom beyond self-help books

Next are self-help books, which are not my cup of tea. I've got my own personalised guide to navigating life. And although I'll keep my age a mystery, I've got a few decades of wisdom under my belt.

However, let me drop a plot twist.

Skimming through The Mountain Is You by Brianna Wiest at Al Rewaya Books stall, I discover how it unravels the mysteries of self-sabotage while offering strategies to kick those self-destructive habits to the kerb permanently.

In one part, Wiest asks readers to imagine a life free from the addictive clutches of social media. “If social media didn't exist, what would you do with your life?” she writes. It's enough to get me to take a copy.

My victory is now doubled with two books in my hand.

A book that lets you take the lead

Yet another self-help book catches my attention: The Art of Thinking, by Rod Judkins.

Although I've always believed that each person is a unique case, and advice from others may not necessarily be tailored to individual needs, I decide to give this book a chance.

Its book's appeal lies in the author's unconventional approach: encouraging readers to engage with it randomly.

“This book is not meant to be read in a linear way. When your creativity is running low or you feel the need for inspiration, open it at any page at random.”

Confessions of a bookworm

Self-help, poetry that doesn't resonate, fiction and non-fiction just do not strike a chord with me. I'm starting to wonder if I'm just an eccentric bookworm or if I've become a pro at finding creative excuses to dodge reading.

Cultural books, however, always find a place in my heart.

If Only They Didn't Speak English by Jon Sopel explores the current state of Anglo-American relations, particularly in the era of Trump and Brexit. Because I'm from Lebanon, I'm keen to grasp how people from diverse backgrounds respond to conflicts in a broader sense.

I hastily bag my fourth book and then, with the excitement of a child in a sweet shop, continue on for my final discovery.

Despite all the tempting literature, I just can't resist a Sudoku puzzle book.

A mindful retreat from the digital chaos, it offers a way to detach from the world. The decision to dive into Sudoku isn't just about distraction; it is a conscious choice for mental clarity and stress relief.

Back home, reality makes a comeback

Back at home, I carefully lay out the books on the table, thinking: “I conquered the book fair!”

But, in a plot twist, instead of starting to read, I find myself turning on the TV then catching up with what I missed on social media while at the event.

Because, let's face it, even the most intriguing literary journeys can't compete with the daily drama of online updates and the incessant stream of news.

I relish the anticipation of diving into the books I've purchased, but with all the current overwhelming war news, I'm patiently waiting for the perfect moment when I can fully immerse myself with a tranquil mind.

Updated: November 10, 2023, 6:02 PM