NAT 201106 SIBF-1604670433412
Book lovers at the Sharjah International Book Fair on Friday. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: Young bookworms pushing trolleys packed with books and educational materials; students and their parents checking shelves displaying seemingly endless rows of paperbacks and hardcovers; and authors interacting with readers — these scenes affirm the love for reading and the written word is never going out of style.

At the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) happening at Expo Centre Sharjah, the old charm of sifting through piles of books is vibrantly alive. Socially responsible visitors practice health protocols, including practicing physical distancing and wearing face masks as they browse and look for their favourite books.

SIBF organisers said coffee table books in particular have proven resilient, despite more people content online. “Filled with stunning photographs and richly detailed illustrations, and accompanied by well-researched text, coffee table books continue to appeal to the imagination of readers as a perennial source of visual inspiration,” according to SIBF organisers.

Glimpse into a glorious past

“Although the primary point of appeal of a coffee-table book is visual, these books also spark conversations because of their creativity and exclusivity,” explained Sahar Helal, sales manager of Lebanon’s Books and Beyond.

NAT 201106 SIBF2-1604670435315
Sahar Helal, sales manager of Lebanon’s Books and Beyond, with the coffee table book 'The Art of the Pharaohs'. Image Credit: Supplied

Helal cited a wide range of books on Islamic art and architecture that trace the architecture, calligraphy, ornamental styles, painting, ceramics, textiles, jewellery, and glasswork of a vastly accomplished and influential civilisation. “Books on Islamic art and architecture offer a glimpse into a glorious past. They offer a historical and cultural overview of our shared heritage and history, allow us to examine the changing artistic styles, and draw attention to the exquisite craftsmanship and artistic achievements of a bygone era,” she added. Window to the world

SIBF, which is running until November 14, is also platform for showcasing cultural and linguistic diversity at it offers numerous literary translations of books in Arabic from different languages. Visitors can check the 10 volumes of Hadashi no Gen (Barefoot Gen), a graphic and moving account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and its aftermath. The late manga artist, Keiji Nakazawa, who drew on the experiences of his own life to tell the story of his city’s atomic destruction in 1945, published the work in the 1970s which was serialised in several magazines.

“Although the book touches upon a painful chapter in world history, it brings to light how war affects children and has an uplifting message of peace and hope,” said Mohammad Fawzy, media officer at Cairo’s Mahrousa Centre. The book was translated into Arabic by Maher Elsherbini, a professor at Cairo University who specialises in the Japanese language. Also popular with the Arab audience is the recently translated Batman Noir: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore which takes on the origin of comics’ greatest super-villain, The Joker.

Winning writing formula

Ahmed Murad

Celebrated Egyptian novelist and screenwriter Ahmed Murad shared his winning formula in writing. He said: “Everything in our life can play a role in a novel. Imagination is a fertile soil and true talent lies in the ability to create something new from existing scenarios by changing the details.”

“The true value of a novel lies in its quality, ideas and choice of topic. A book’s appeal among readers is a crucial objective but an author must sustain his presence in his works through his creativity,” explained Murad, added his novel, 1919, is about the Spanish Flu and one day he would write about the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Reading made me a better human being’

Prince Ea

Meanwhile, Prince Ea, the popular spoken word artist with over 1 billion views on Facebook and YouTube, spoke about how rap songs and books changed his life. Emphasising his passion for continuous learning, he said: “I am a big reader. Books are the reason why I am where I am today, and I have probably invested more in books than in any other asset!”

“I didn’t care about education or reading till in high school when a kid named Corey made me listen to a rap number. It saved my life. The rapper talked of everything from science to religion to geopolitics and that got me hooked. The songs I listened to talked of Karl Marx and David Hume, and this made me read up on them. The poetry in rap made me a better human being,” he underlined.

This year’s edition of SIBF is a combination of online and face-to-face events. Organised by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), SIBF 2020 will run until November 14. Online or in-person visitors can register for upcoming discussions.