The message from so many emerging market publishing industry events is clear: reading – and by extension the focus of publishing – is about learning. The idea that one might wish to read for pleasure and social enhancement, to let the imagination run free and just relax with a good book, is something all too rarely touched upon.
The new Omicron variant could yet scupper the Middle East’s book fair revival, but for now it looks promising for the region’s booklovers who traditionally flock to Arab literary events in, literally, their millions.
This year, as in most of 2020, the Arab book fair calendar has been in limbo, or running at quarter speed, but in October the UAE’s Sharjah International Book Fair went ahead in-person with many Covid-19 limitations, but still pulled in just shy of 1.7 million visitors (fewer than in the past), taking the 2021 crown as both the world’s biggest public-facing and trade-facing book fair.
In January we’ll see the 31st Doha International Book Fair resume in January, running 13-22, organised as usual by the Qatar Cultural and Heritage Events Center (QCHEC), affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Sports. The USA will be Guest of Honour as part of the Qatar-USA Culture Year 2021.
As so often in the emerging market book fairs, while the public flood to these events in their millions, the organisers have a narrow focus when it comes to books, as reflected in Doha’s 31st incarnation slogan, “Knowledge is Light,” supposedly emphasising the importance of knowledge and reading.
Maha Mubarak Al-Mohannadi, Head of the Sponsorship and Communications Committee and Administrative Officer at QCHEC, explains,
Knowledge is the basis for individual development and the society as a whole.
While the Doha IBF Director Jassim Al-Buainain adds,
Knowledge is the basis for the progress and development of countries, and contributes to the development of the individual and society as it lights the way for students and guides interactions among individuals.
Just in case we haven’t got the message, the Doha press release goes on,
The Doha International Book Fair 2022 will be held to showcase the human journey of exploration and learning. The exhibition will introduce the latest and most recent publications that reflect human’s creative and reflective knowledge across all fields. That is, the Fair offers a window of knowledge to researchers, innovators, scientists, and writers to develop societies and improve lives.
The Doha IBF press release is a long, long litany (750 words) of exhortations to read to learn that western readers and publishers will find tiring and restrictive. Read to learn, knowledge is power, read to learn, knowledge is the basis of progress, read to learn, forget having fun, read to learn, only read fiction if it’s classical literature or poetry, read to learn…
Nothing wrong with reading to learn, of course, but the message here and from so many emerging market publishing industry events, is clear: reading – and by extension the focus of publishing – is about learning. The idea that one might wish to read for pleasure and social enhancement, to let the imagination run free and just relax with a good book, is something all too rarely touched upon.
In the Doha example, the idea one might read for pleasure simply isn’t mentioned.
Emerging market fair organisers and publishers would do well to look at the leading lights like Sharjah and embrace the idea that reading can be fun.
Let’s hope the up and coming Muscat International Book Fair in Oman (Feb 22-Mar 25) and the Baghdad International Book Fair in Iraq (May 11-21), both of which attracted over 1 million visitors in 2019, will have a broader focus when they announce their theme and programmes.