From left: #GNBookClub members Prachiti Talathi, Monita Mohan and Rehmatullah Shaikh. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai

The year 2016 might be coming to an end, but the journey around the world with a little help from the written word is never ending.

To create a generation of book lovers and help people along this journey, President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan declared 2016 as the ‘Year of Reading’. And Gulf News supported it with our own initiative - #GNBookClub, an online club that brought book lovers together, using our social media channels and gulfnews.com. The book club has been running for a while, but was given a further impetus as part of this campaign.

With over 1,300 members, the love for the literary world grew month on month.

#GNBookClub hosted a series of competitions on social media, gave away six bestsellers each week courtesy Jashanmal Bookstores, held weekly book quizzes and polls, posted reader reviews of books and had conversations with authors. You can find all this content on gulfnews.com/your-say/gn-book-club.

According to a study by the Arab Thought Foundation, the annual average reading rate for an Arab child is six minutes compared with a 12,000 minutes average for children in the West.

Gulf News reader Prachiti Talathi believes that UAE’s year-long reading initiative, along with #GNbookClub, was the perfect idea to “encourage children to read more”.

The Dubai-based festival coordinator came across parents who were encouraging their children to read more, who would otherwise just ask them to focus on education.

She said: “I recently met a child who told me he wanted to read, but his mum wouldn’t allow him to buy certain books. Additionally, children in schools are forced to read specific books. I believe there is a need to have more initiatives that raise awareness and children should be allowed to explore the literary world.”

In fact, #GNBookClub tackled this in a report published in October, wherein mothers provided tips on how to inculcate the love of reading in children. In another article, published in August, members gave tips on how book lovers can read more often during a busy day schedule, based on practical experience. As part of that report, Talathi had recommended joining a book club. Being an avid reader, she thought this gave her an opportunity to see what other people were reading and “stumble across a book that you won’t read otherwise”.

Covering a variety of topics, #GNBookClub gave bookworms an insight into the literary world, whether it was about giving a book as a gift, providing a list of books people could read if rushed for time, access to mobile libraries at Dubai Metro stations or just answering the age-old question about why fairy tales portrayed women as golden-haired, weak princesses.

We asked some of our members what their favourite aspect about #GNBookClub was?

Talathi responded that it was writing book reviews. When asked to pick one book that accompanied her through the year, she quickly named 1,001 Cars to Dream of Driving Before You Die. “I am passionate about cars and this book gives you a history of all these cars, with excellent pictures,” she said.

But, for most members of the #GNBookClub, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand were two common favourites, while the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling was top amongst younger readers. Fiction was most popular, especially the genres of romance, mystery and thriller.

Rehmatullah Shaikh, a senior executive based in Dubai, agrees that the UAE’s ‘Year of Reading’ was a “great initiative”. However, he believes that to be able to inculcate a culture takes time and it’s a long journey.

As a member of the #GNBookClub, Shaikh said he got a chance to contribute to the movement.

The personal opinions that people shared about the books they loved seemed interesting to him, especially as those contributing were not professional writers. “This should be a regular thing and shouldn’t die down now that the year is over,” he added.

The book reviews were also the favourite aspect for Monita Mohan, a Dubai-based public relations content coordinator.

She said: “Having community contributions for reviews is great, because these people don’t have an agenda. It is just raw passion for reading and you get to read their opinions.”

Mohan is glad she got the opportunity to connect with other book lovers and learnt of interesting books that she could read through #GNbookClub.

The novel that stood out for her was The Sellout by Paul Beatty, which won the 2016 Man Booker Prize. “It is a brilliant book, hilarious yet so relevant, especially given today’s political situation in the US,” she said.

So, do you want to be part of a great reading experience?

Then log on to www.gulfnews.com and register for #GNBookClub. You can also follow us on the Gulf News Facebook page or on twitter @gulf_news. Better still WhatsApp us on 0565245977.