They talk books, and all things books for an hour, every month, at the Readers’ Majlis. It is run by the Dubai International Writers’ Centre (DIWC), which is a part of the Emirates Literature Foundation.
On Sunday, April 17, the Majlis was held for the third time since its inception. Naouel Chaoui, at the DIWC, who manages the Majlis sessions, spoke to Gulf News about reading and its various joys:
What got you reading?
“What attracted me to books was my grandmother who used to tell me stories. I couldn’t sleep without listening to her stories. When I started reading myself, I picked up fairytales to continue this habit. I was the youngest of seven children and so there were a lot of books at home to read.”
What do you like to read?
“I love books that talk about social life. I love novels, because it makes me dream. Reading a book to me is a form of joy and relaxation, almost like therapy. However, I don’t read books related to economics, finance or politics because they make me tense.”
One book that you think everyone should read?
“In the Name of Identity by Amin Maalouf. It’s a beautiful book. It talks about what identity is and how we perceive it. It is a subject that is valid for every person alive.”
One author that everyone should read?
“My favourite author is Kenize Mourad. She is a journalist. The first book I read by her was Regards from the Dead Princess: Novel of a Life. It was in memory of her grandmother. I was a teenager then. The book talks about three different generations. Her writing style is fantastic. Her book, Our Sacred Land: Voices of the Palestine-Israeli Conflict, focuses on the conflict between Palestine and Israel and it was one of the rare books that I read. It records interviews from both sides, and it’s the first time I’ve read something so objective on the issue.”
How does reading help?
“We might think of something in one way, but reading different books on the same subject makes you look at other views. Also, if you’re lonely, books can be your best friends. Discovering stories of other people gives you ideas. Reading about a success story can give you a push in life. It enriches your language and writing.”
How do you get more people to read?
“If you want to encourage people, books need to be made easily available and people need to be given a choice and a forum to discuss what they read. What we are trying to do is to put together people who read and just by being together they will spread the word and love for the books. We have to start reading at an early age. Parents should be more involved with their children. We cannot count on schools to do it. I’ve seen in some schools that they give prizes for reading. It is good and you create a competition to make them go for it. But, we have to instil a love of reading in them, which is very different from reading a certain quantity of books. Children should, thus, read for the fun of it, not because it is an assignment.
What do you think of the culture of reading in the UAE?
“If you read the surveys in the media about reading habits in the country, they aren’t very encouraging. But, I personally believe that if you give the opportunity to children or parents to read or participate in reading clubs or gatherings, the culture of reading will improve. It isn’t just about reading classics or novels. At the end of the day, we should be reading; could be articles or newspapers. There is no ‘bad reading’. People need to read out of their own choice.”
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What is the Readers’ Majlis?
The Readers’ Majlis is hosted by the Dubai International Writers’ Centre every third Monday of a month. The aim is to share and discuss books related to specific themes, which are decided at each session. The group members then have to choose a book related to the theme to discuss with other members and help them discover books from different genres and cultures.