Not just a social gathering, a meeting of minds

There are plenty of book clubs in the UAE. Some focus on Arab writers, other are excusively for women, and one even pairs words with beverages. All of them, however, are filled with book lovers. So what draws people to book clubs and what do they find while they’re there?

  • Maha ShakirImage Credit: Supplied
  • Simon PuttImage Credit: Supplied
Gulf News


Imagine moving to a new country. What would you do in the first two weeks? Visit tourist spots? Furnish your apartment?

For Ellen Roed, it was finding a book club: “As soon as I arrived in Dubai, I started looking up book clubs. By my second week, I attended my first meeting in the city at Bibliophiles Book Club.” Having moved with her husband from Kuala Lumpur, the British expatriate wanted a sense of continuity to adjust to the big change. She said: “As an expat wife, wherever I’ve lived, I’ve tried to join a book group. It’s helped me transition into new environments.”

Her story is not unique. The co-founder of Bibliophiles, who started as a member, also joined upon moving to the UAE.

Simon Putt told Gulf News: “We all come to Dubai as expats. And for most of us, we come alone. One of the things you need to do apart from settling into your new job, school, or city is build your social network.” He has been in the UAE for 12 years. For him, there’s something about book clubs that make them the perfect places to meet people. “Dubai is a hard place to find kindred spirits to discuss love of literature with. That’s what drew me to the club, being able to meet readers and talents from around the world.”

But why book clubs? Among the wide selection of activities to do in a bustling city like Dubai, what makes them stand out?

By bringing together literature lovers, book clubs are actually creating hubs of dialogue. Avid readers are not ones to have one-dimensional opinions. Putt said: “You get a wide range of perspectives and interpretations. It also provokes debate. You might love a book, and find that many people hate it, after which you either have to defend your views or re-evaluate them. Even though it’s a stimulating environment, it is still open and relaxed.”

Maha Shakir, a professor based in Dubai, agrees. She’s the organiser of the Safar Dubai Book Group and Kutubi Bilarabi. Shakir inherited these book clubs from two different women, and she has been running them for over five years.

Speaking about Kutub Bilarabi, which focuses on Arab writers whose books have been written or translated to English, Shakir told Gulf News: “Book club discussions are where you have the opportunity to ask questions that you might hesitate to ask in other contexts.”

Hailing from Iraq, she added: “These novels give you the keys to inquire and learn. We have Arabs and non-Arabs who come to explore the range of Middle Eastern literature, and even when people have different opinions, things never get personal, since the books have allowed us to breach these topics.”

For her, there’s an added bonus for readers who join. “Book clubs also act as good motivations to keep reading. When you know a discussion is coming, you get excited and push yourself to finish a book.”

Like the others, Shakir has also turned to book clubs in her search for connection.

“When I moved to Dubai in 2010, I didn’t have any close friends. Then I met people at two or three book clubs. From there, we soon started attending book exhibitions, watching movies together and more. Now, most of my friends are the ones I met going to book clubs.”

In big cities and small towns around the world, book clubs still thrive. Even with people’s jam-packed schedules and multiple responsibilities, book clubs are carving out spaces for reflection, conversation, and the good old joy of reading.

If you would like to experience all things books, then join #GNBookClub. You can register on our website or post on our Facebook page. We have discussions, debates, quizzes and competitions with books as prizes, So, discover the joy of reading.