Thursday, April 11, 2013

We have a book crisis here.

It is a pretty absorbing issue for book-worms and can be quite frustrating. Let me explain why.

Y'see, here in the UAE we have Borders, we have WH Smith, we have smaller book franchises and we also have the mega-book shop in Dubai Mall called Kinokuniyah also known as Book World which is just... amazing! We have one second hand book store in Abu Dhabi, and that's pretty much it. Pretty much all the book shops I've been to around here have always been small (except from Kinokuniyah), having just a small selection of current best-sellers, and a ridiculous over-abundance of YA books (sorry YA fans!). 

Every book-worm, I hope, is going to say 'well, what about libraries?' and y'see that is the shocker. There are no real libraries here. Sure they have libraries, but you're not allowed to borrow the books; in effect, you gotta bookmark the novel you're reading and return to it every day for an hour or two to get your fix.

Books here are EXPENSIVE (mostly because they're imported). There's no Amazon here (well, you can have books delivered here but they're a pretty-penny) though I do believe a recent online company is trying to follow from Amazon's success and make it big in this region; but even still, they won't be as cheap as Amazon or others.

The thrift store (second-hand book shop) I recently visited was impressive. It had a great range and is in down town Abu Dhabi, the only problem I had with it is that it just wasn't organised as well as it could be - but I'm hoping they will sort it soon. [By the way, that book shop is a Thomas Harris wonderland. They have all his books three times over at least.] The way they get their books is through donation. Expats returning to their country of origin, or moving on, need somewhere to dump their books, so they say goodbye to their beauties and leave them with the shop. The books there are cheap, I'll give them that, BUT they're also old books, you're not gonna get new ones.

There has been a recent initiative by two Emirati girls called The Book Shelter. They quite literally saw how desperate the book reading community feels here, and so they did something about it. An interview with them will be coming up soon!

Some Cafe's are also jumping aboard the bookish rebellion by stocking shelves in their establishments with books that not only can be read at your table but taken away with you... free of charge and you choose if you want to return it. I visited Circle Cafe in Abu Dhabi and interviewed the manager there, that will also be coming up soon, and he showed himself to be a very enthusiastic promoter of this bookish movement.

It's interesting to note that certain photographs in magazines are censored here in the UAE, books are not explicitly (I'm not sure if books criticising the country/government, religion etc would be sold openly here though). WH Smith was advertising the 50 Shades books without any censorship at all; they had the books on their front tables at the front doors! In fact a colleague walked in to work with it tucked under her arm the other day - no questions asked!

The majority of the country are expats from around the world (around 80%) and so the Kindle and the Nook has proved to be blessings for the bookishly challenged. Kindle is sold in many shops around here and it has opened up a new world for us impoverished readers! Unfortunately we have to try to beat the system and put in British or American addresses to ensure that we have the best and widest possible array of books. It's sneaky, but true; otherwise we get stuck with a smaller selection, pining away until rights and what not allow the book to be sold in the Middle East.

Things aren't all that bad. I love that book stores flourish here and that young people (and old people) are able to access books, I just wish they were more affordable and that a wider array was available. I can't complain too much though because the UAE is realising that those of us who read are starving for more. You never know, this bookish-revolution may just lead to lending libraries...


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  1. This makes me sad. I know book rights, etc for the rest of the world is generally slower than the US / Europe, but to have not access to borrow a book or even get new releases cheap makes me so sad.

    1. Luckily for me I'm an avid audiobooker, and I have an Audible account, so coupled with the Kindle we don't do too badly. It's physical books and independent book stores that are lacking.

  2. I'm glad I'm a student and have access to my university's library. It's a very-well stocked one and they respond to book requests immediately!

    1. You're very lucky!!!
      You should start a library from ur house through borrowing from your library.... you can be a bookish bootlegger

  3. It's even worse here in Egypt. None of the big book franchises are open here (except for Virgin, and their collection is limited) and surprisingly, they don't have enough YA books. The focus is always on mainstream authors like Danielle Steel and so, so I can never find what I want. Luckily though, there's this online bookshop that opened recently. I know the owners and I monthly order the books I want per request, so that's a blessing.

    As to the libraries, Egypt completely and utterly sucks in that area. We simply don't have any (and if we do, the collection is usually terrible, and not updated at all) and yeah, I have to do the same thing if I want to buy a kindle ebook.

  4. Hey Reem,
    Thanks so much for dropping by!

    I completely sympathise with you on the book front. It definitely sounds lot more difficult compared to what's going on here. I feel like I've been very ungrateful.
    Do you have a Kindle? Have you tried audiobooks? Audible is great for making audiobooks accessible


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