Opinion | Columnists

Why are books a rare sight on the Dubai Metro?

Travel on public transport in most cities in the developed world and you’ll see plenty of passengers reading. So why is this city different?

  • By Craig Hawes, alpha magazine
  • Published: 11:21 August 29, 2012
  • alpha

Reading on public transport
  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Most of Dubai’s Metro commuters seem reluctant to take advantage of the many minutes spent between stations by getting stuck into a story

I returned to my native UK recently to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Seeing the world enthralled by our pyrotechnics, dancing nurses and, er, Mr Bean playing Vangelis’s Chariots of Fire on a synthesiser aroused in me a latent patriotic zeal.

But what made me even prouder was the afternoon I got on a tube train in London and realised, to my delight, that at least half the people sitting in the packed carriage were reading books.

Not tabloid newspapers, Tweets on their iPhones or tawdry celebrity magazines, but books of every persuasion. And as the train rattled and screeched its way through subterranean London, passengers were each engrossed in their stories, oblivious to the hustle and bustle around them.

As was I, because I too had a book. And for once, I could read it on public transport without feeling like I had sprouted two heads, which, to my dismay, is exactly what happens when I read on the Metro in Dubai. Sometimes I think I’d receive less baffled looks if I removed my clothes and juggled frozen chickens while chanting Buddhist incantations.

Most of Dubai’s Metro commuters seem reluctant to take advantage of the many minutes spent between stations by getting stuck into a story. I look at my fellow passengers staring into space, or scrolling zombie-like through Facebook and I think: what a waste of a great opportunity to learn something, be entertained, enter the mind of another – like all good books let us do.

Sadly, this city that hosts a major annual literary festival has possibly the most literature-averse commuters in the developed world. It’s a constant source of exasperation and one that makes me want to drag my box of unwanted paperbacks on to station platforms and hand them out free of charge to bored travellers.


The chance to catch a few minutes of precious uninterrupted reading time between the office and home is what deters me from buying a new car and reminds me of my time living in London, when the person sitting opposite you might raise a pair of inquisitive eyes from his pages to check out your reading matter, and vice versa. There might even be a spot of bibliographic one-upmanship. Look at you with your dreary Jeffrey Archer as I plough through the more sophisticated prose of Will Self! Ah, happy days. (Predictably, while I was in London almost all the women seemed to be reading 50 Shades of Grey.)

Admittedly book shops here in Dubai might not be as ubiquitous as they used to be. Magrudy’s has abandoned BurJuman Centre, Festival City and City Centre, leaving these locations with either tiny poorly stocked shops or none at all. But there are plenty of small second-hand places where you can pick up cheap paperbacks.

And Kinokuniya in The Dubai Mall – where I often spend hours of my weekend – is probably the greatest book shop in the Arabian Gulf, a store comparable with anything London has to offer. If that place ever closes I would go into a state of mourning.

So go there now. Pick up a book today and let’s make a mobile library of our Red and Green Metro lines. Let’s show tourists that this is a literate city that cares about the written word. At the very least, the next time I pull out a book on the Metro could you please stop staring at me like I’ve just pulled a rabbit out of a hat? It’s just a book – and everyone should carry one in their bag.

Craig hawes is alpha’s features writer, covering such a vast array of subjects that he lives in a constant state of confusion and wonderment.


Comments (28)

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  1. Added 15:49 September 7, 2012

    The only thing i regret after buying a car is reading books on a daily basis. Not to speak about the calm (i know it would take X amount of time in a metro, so no hurry). Well, to increase readership (and ridership too), they can open bookstores at the stations. Read Magazine can carry discount vouchers with tie-up with Kinokuniya or Borders. Heck, they can even reserve seats for readers (haha).

    Sahil Banga, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 22:01 September 6, 2012

    It is also not healthy to read books in a moving area. It will strain your eyes actually. Well, if it's your culture, then be it. We can't do anything about that.

    ross, dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 21:18 September 6, 2012

    I ALWAYS carry around a book to read, almost NEVER read it on the metro. Two main reasons: First, Metro trip times are just too short to get lost into a book. The longest trip is half an hour only and mostly I never do have to travel more than 10 mins max so taking out a book to utilize those 10 mins doesnt make sense. I spent time staring around instead! Second, as also pointed out by others..no seating!! I have spent about 80% of all my metro trips standing..

    Jess, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 10:32 September 6, 2012

    I don't read because I get carsick. I'm sure a lot of other people are the same.

    Katrina, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 12:50 September 5, 2012

    I commute by the Metro daily. I carry a book daily and I do see many people reading even while standing.I wish the author of this article travelled during the peaktime where there is no place to stand comfortably firstly, forget about reading. Reading is great habit, however, maybe the author should understand that people use time on the metro to catch up with friends and family as the lifestyle in Dubai is too pacy to allow any free/me time. The author seems to indicate that we of the Dubai metro are less than those in UK because we don't read enough. Does any one agree with me to disagree?

    Sowmeya, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 15:27 September 4, 2012

    I totally agree I read while on the metro and people look as if I am a alien. Also bookshops here are poorly stocked - I can't find a few books I want - it's very depressing.

    sana, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 09:40 September 4, 2012

    I am with the writer that reading books will definitely give you new information, learn something and broaden your knowledge, however, not seeing metro commuters carrying books doesn’t mean they don’t read and not interested on it, it is just that, some are like me, who preferred to do the reading at night before going to sleep or in the morning while having a cup of tea also, some may have the same problem as I do, I get dizzy whenever I tried reading whilst seated on a moving vehicle. :0

    abhey, dubai, Philippines

  8. Added 13:41 September 3, 2012

    I do agree with the above article but its peoples choice if they would like to read or not . we should learn to respect others choice and not glare at them as the article says . I myself love to read and do read everyday but would not find it comfortable to read in the metro as it is not everyday that you get a seating place. .

    PRINCESS, DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 12:14 September 3, 2012

    Yup, I too love to browse Kinokuniya. And don't forget Borders. I think people now just tend to read off Kindle devices instead of lugging a bulky book around.

    Art, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 12:00 September 3, 2012

    I hardly ever find a seat on metro to sit. In other parts of the world you would see trains with more seating capacity. It is always difficult to stand and read. I am sure if the Metro infratsructre is further developed with more routes and trains and most importantly more seating capacity, you would see people reading.

    Hasnain Imtiaz, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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