AndFarAway

A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

On the Crisis of the “Arab Book”

Here’s something that made me stop and think;

الكتاب العربي.. متى تنتهي أزماته؟

أسباب أزمة الكتاب العربي-17% من إنتاج الكتاب بالعالم العربي وفق تقرير التنمية البشرية ينحصر في الكتب الدينية والتراثية وهي كتب في الغالب لا تحتاج لأي مجهود فكر

“The reasons of the demise of the ‘Arab Book’- 17% of the books produced in the Arab world fall under the category of religious or cultural genres that don’t require any mental effort from the reader.”

Before the radicals of you jump and choke me for quoting something that says religious books don’t require much thought, let me point out that the article doesn’t refer to books on the philosophy behind religion, but rather, according the article, “repetitive publications of the same ideas.”

The article provides a rather saddening example- Sharja’s International Book Festival 2005 saw the “participation” of 707 Arab publication agencies, with only 2100 new titles. That’s depressing, especially when you keep in mind that our wonderful Arab world has a combined population of 300 million people (Source:Wikipedia). A best selling book usually gets around 5,000 prints in total. Comparitively, Israel, with a population of 7 million people, produces 13 thousand new titles a year.

The article also states that only %10 of the publications were about the applied sciences, and that barely %8 of the publications were about theoritcal sciences. “Most” of the books that were in the Festival(and because these were compared with religious and cultural books at 17%, I’m guessing that they probably make up over 20% of publications) are- *drumroll*- books about horoscopes, songs, and “love”. Yeeeeeeeeee!

What made me laugh is what the article relates an recent “point of discussion”. In typical Arabian conspiracy theorist style, Arab publishers, in regards to questioning about the recent trend of plagiarizing Western texts into Arabic, have been blaming western copy righters for “stealing” the ideas of third world countries. Of course, with true Arab chauvinism, they had to somehow stick the glory that was Al-Andalus into the formula *laugh*. Pathetic. Don’t you just love us?

I think I’m depressed.

Read all of the article here.

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11 Comments

  1. We were not brought up to cherish books. On the contrary, we always hated them because they were more of burdens than a joy or sources of information. Look at the majority of of school curricula in the Arab world? How many include a book as a part of the syllabus? In my 12 years of studying Arabic in school I was never required to read a single book, and by that I mean as a requirement set by the Ministry of Education, yet at one point in time I had 5 textbooks for the class.

    The other side to the argument revolves around the prices of books in the Arab world and their affordability. Relative to the wages earned, books are expensive in the Arab world. Add to that the unavailability of public libraries or their poor collection and the unavailability of used books outlets.

    A skeptic will also add: Reading = Knowledge, and knowledge may lead to independent thinking. Do you really want your fellow citizens to become independent thinkers? How am I, for example, supposed to feed them all the crap that I blabber about?

  2. many people prefer reading english books instead of reading arabic ones. and most english books are translated into arabic and translation is incorrect.. and as jameed says, arabian school systems do not require reading books, u can easily pass…

  3. kinzi

    Roba, dear, don’t be depressed…be encouraged that you are a part of positive change!

    I would wager that the bloggers at JP are reading more books now than they were before blogging. And eventually, people who love reading books start to love writing books. In their mother language!

  4. Anonymous

    Hi it’s Marta from Barcelona (don’t remember my blog password, maalesh!)

    In fact, in Barcelona there are countless public and gubernamental campaigns encouraging reading…and a catalan child when he or she lefts school has read almost the most principal spanish and catalan classic authors and books…but in mi opinion we should read more. Or i must say,not reading more: Reading BETTER. Choosing good books and comprehend deeply what you read.

  5. Hmmm, what concerns me is that there are no footnotes on how the writter got his hands on these numbers.

    Ok, i’m not stating that what he’s saying is totally wrongs or totally right. But its worth looking into.

    Another point would be, do these percentages include the banned books? that would be interesting to know.

  6. Nas

    you hit a sore subject with me roba. it’s actually my dream to establish a publishing company/printing press in Jordan. one of the reasons other than it being a big interest of mine, is all that you mentioned. do you know that in many cases people have to go to lebanon to get published.

    in the U.S. you get rockstar treatment. authors do book tours and public readings.

    i think more books are translated in the spainish each year than the arab world produces in a decade. and it’s depressing because back in the islamic empire we produced so many books. we preserved texts that would’ve been lost like plato’s rebublic or aristotle’s ethics. for awhile the only copies in the world were in arabic. so yes, the andalus was glorious, europeans will testify to that.

    so it’s utterly depressing for me.

    it’s quite simple though.

    the world now runs on money, more than it ever did before. and there is no money to be made in books in the arab world. there are no book stores, no encouragment of reading for the youth, no access to books, et cetera et cetera. there are many authors out there who are talented but cannot quit their day jobs to become full time authors, it will not support the family.

  7. Anonymous

    Here is a solution inspired by the above comment: Restore the Islamic Empire. At least half of the society will be locked up in their houses giving them more time to read.
    -AS

  8. Dear AS,
    While the “above comment” agreeably contains problematic elements, it’s only your own Islamophobia that projects the fundamentalist desire for a restored “Islamic” Empire on nearly every Muslim that you come across. And FYI, Muslims weren’t the only people to lock up their women indoors. The world has been effed up for centuries by men in nearly every society.

    Please brush up your history (and your wannabe feminism) before you try to act so well-informed.

  9. Nas

    umm first of all I didn’t say we should return to the empire, I am merely drawing a comparision of the times.

    second of all as arafat said, brush up on your history, women in the Islamic empire were celebrated scholars, doctors and writers.

    perhaps what you’re thinking of is the Taliban. ah…well…wrong century, wrong peoples

  10. Anonymous

    Arafat. This apologetic “We’re not the only ones who do it” stance does us no good. We need to examine why WE do it and then proceed to solve it. I ask you this, if other people jump off a bridge, should muslims do it too? Another point, why the hostility, that comment was meant for sarcasm and as such merits no historical authority.

    Nas. I don’t think the problem is the geographic location of the printers, I think what Roba was trying to say is that we have a much deeper existential dilemma in the way we’re moving and inspiring our societies. This supply-side economics view of the literature market will simply not work, if you build it, they still will not read.

    Anadalus, Shmandalus. It’s 2006.

    The world has and always will run on money. Money is simply the physical/virtual manifestation of capital wealth and as such has always existed. Do you really think the muslims went to war so they could “spread the message,” it was for resources, and as for taxation heck they even said, you pay your “jizieh,” or you can join us, but oh, you’ll pay “zakah.”

    … it’s all about the money .. it’s all about the dum dum dudumdum ….

    -Sam Abu Fijleh

  11. well sam… u sound like a typical capitalist! =) money is important… but it is not all about the money… at least for me… money is a way not a destination…
    commenting on roba’s post and other comments…
    if we want better books published we need to read better books first… we can blame anybody… for not teaching us to read… but come on… why should we find someone else rather than ourselves to blame?
    do we always have to be taught or to follow our predecessors’ footsteps? dont we have minds of our own… to make free choices??
    “{Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change their state themselves)” Q13:11
    roba… dun give up to depression…
    any change no matter how grand… starts with one simple action… so keep on reading good books…

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