AndFarAway

A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

Could I call it my first love affair?

I have always been a bookworm, which is why I’m still shocked over the article I read a few weeks ago on the state of reading in the Arab world.

The article reminded me of an incident that occured last July, when a cousin and I were reading in a public park and an old lady approached us and started laughing, “Who reads books when they are in the presence of their friends! You should be laughing and joking, leave the books till later! Books are for boredom, didn’t you get enough reading during the school year?”

I was too amused to say anything (or at least anything nice, I had to a7tirem 7ali cause she’s old and all).

It also made me reflect on how essential reading was is in my life. A book is always a treasured gift, reading is always something joyful- as a child, a trip to the bookstore was more enjoyable than a trip to the toy store, now, I would much rather read a good book than watch a movie.

My affair with books started at a very young age. When I was too young to actually read, I filled my time with comic books, but they were soon replaced by Enid Blyton followed Ann Martin’s “The Baby Sitter’s Club” . Before I turned 12, I switched from children’s books to “young adult”, devouring almost every single book Christopher Pike wrote with a hungry passion(and which I still re-read every few years. Dude, he has awesome vampire fiction).

My nose was always buried in a book, and books kept piling and piling until shelves weren’t enough anymore and some had to be moved to boxes in the attic- I probably owned over 500 books by the time I was 14 (open the first page of three quarters of the second hand children’s books at Books@Cafe and you will find “Ruba Assi” messily scribbled on the top right-hand corner).

Fiction wasn’t the only thing I read. One of my earliest reading-related recollections happened around the time I was 9 years old. My grandfather had passed away a few years earlier and had bequeathed my mother his startling collection of books. Being an avid lover of the written word, I had picked up one of the “easiest” books around (easy being relative to the encyclopedias on philosophy, politics, and religion that lined up the shelves), a tattered and ancient copy of “The New Medicine Show”, which, if my memory serves me correctly, was published in 1977. Filled with technical jargon and scientific concepts that a 9-years-old kid couldn’t possibly have understood, I read the obsolete book from cover to cover anyway, several times. I remember being fascinated by the difference between paracetamol and aspirin, being curious about the effects of the food allergies with which I suffered, and amazed at the various OTC treatments available for various ailments.

The New Medicine Show was only the start of a trend that included reading a lot of stuff that didn’t make sense to me, because in the pre-internet world, I also had a certain affection towards encyclopedias, which I spent hours pouring over. Even to this day, I still have a tendency to read things which are way too specialized, but with the help of Google and Wikipedia, “difficult to understand” is a phrase that doesn’t exist anymore.

By the time I was 13 and a little after the advent of the internet into my life, my reading became more adult and more niched towards historical fiction and science fiction, with a strong love of Anne Rice and J. R. R. Tolkein. Among my favorite ever reads are “Memoirs of a Geisha“(which I first read when I was 14), “Summer Sisters“(hi Nisreen), “Wicked“, and “The Da Vinci Code“.

All this said, I must stress on the fact a link does not neccessarily have to exist between isolation and a love of reading- although many Arabs seem to believe so. I’m a social person by nature, and some of my sweetest memories involve group reading activities, something quite common in the society that I grew up in.

Unfortunately, due to lack of time (and way too much online reading ;) ), I don’t read as many novels as I used to. A lot of people here hold the stance that novels are “silly” and “worthless”, but I personally believe that novels have had a much more drastic influence on my writing and style than other types of content. Admittedly, I still read too much content daily than I could possibly retain, and perhaps more than the average Jordanian would read in a month, but my average of two novels a week has dropped to around a novel every two months. Most of my novel reading is done in classes (thanks to a listening concentration span of exactly 128 seconds, my ears just don’t work damnit) or in the car while waiting for street lights to turn green.

But I’m digressing. Walt Disney said, “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island”, which brings me back to my intitial shock- why do we as Arabs fail to appreciate the treasure in books? When did you read your first book? What are your favorite books? Why do you think Arabs dislike reading?

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11 Comments

  1. Ironically, whenever I receive a large package from the United States which requires pick-up from the Post Office downtown, I always have the valuable stuff (DVDs and such) hidden on a layer beneath books. I know the guys checking the boxes don’t read, and I don’t want to pay extra tarrif charges, so beneath a layer of books is the safest place. :)

  2. kinzi

    Dave, good tip!

    Roba, I’ve always been a reader like that! My mom would make me go outside to enjoy the lovely mountain air, and I’d just take my book and climb a tree…and read!

  3. Kinzi, u would climb a tree and read?

    LOL

    Awesome.

    Roba, Favorite books are Less than Zero, Glamorama, Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, All of Ann Rice’s stuff up to “Chrsit the Lord” which I thought was very boring, Fight club, Choke, and the Prestige. And that’s just the fiction stuff.

    Nonfiction, well, I could go for hours.

  4. Roba, that was really inspiring.

    I read so much as a kid. I read short stories and novels, fiction, science and magazines… But then, as a teen, reading lost its place in my life. I found it again when I was 16, motivated by my sister Lina, and since then, I always regret the years I spent away from books. I’ve never been a bookworm, I spend more than most readers’ average time on any book, I’ve started several ones that I haven’t finished, but it’s still a great joy to me.

    The park’s incident that you shared reminded me of last week, when my friends and I were at The Good Bookshop. My friend was buying a novel when the woman at the counter asked her if she was a literature student. “You’re not?! Why on earth would someone read a book just for the sake of it, without being assigned to?”

    Another scene comes to mind- 11th grade, on our career day at school, the engineer who was giving the lecture asked us about our hobbies. One guy jokingly said, “Al Mu6ala3a!!”, and everyone in the room cracked up laughing.

    Why do we have this negative attitude towards reading? Is it education? Lack of encouragement of outside reading in schools? Lack of local writers that we can relate to? The small number of public libraries? At JU, being seen at the library would “mar your reputation forever”- this is how many students look at it. To be sitting in 3oloom alone with a book? That’s “social suicide”!

    Do we blame education? I strongly believe it has major flaws. The curriculum has been changed, new technologies have been introduced, yet most teachers fail to change their conventional methods that almost kill children’s creativity and thirst for knowledge. The sole and most important object is finishing the main books assigned by the ministry. We grow up possessors of heroic memorizing skills, but rarely curious enough to dig further than the surface, to explore the amazing world of the written word, to go past receptive, passive reading to active reading that involves criticizing, posing questions, thinking and remolding the text to formulate our own perspective. Because during our school years, we treated most of our books as “sacred”, and learned them like poetry, word for word. There are, of course, many exceptions, and certain schools have adopted modern teaching methods that greatly encourage their students to read… but sadly, they’re still only that- exceptions.

    Yahya Al Abdulla’s short film “Six Minutes” posed sad, astonishing facts about the situation of reading in the arab world. A must-see. http://www.20at.com/media/6-mins.wmv

    Sorry that was too long!

  5. I do second ur passion for the books.Books r man’s best friends. Feel very sad because it is fast losing its place, especially in the lives of this generation. Let this not dampen ur spirit though. Have fun reading and reading and reading.

  6. Yesterday I was sitting in Borders reading a book and I glanced at the bookshelf at my side and saw a book titled “The Andy Warhol Show”. I giggled because, thanks to your blog, I actually had some idea about who Andy Warhol was, which is something that would have never entered my sphere of interest otherwise :) So there is at least some benefit from all the time I spend reading blogs :P I was actually about to email you about that, but as fate would have it, your blog topic of today can allow it as a comment!

    P.S. Did you write your name as “Ruba” when you were a kid??

  7. Nisreen

    NBO :) (im metioned in your blog, yay! hehe)

  8. Dave, LOL, so I guess the lack of interest in books is doing some people good ;)

    Kinzi, wow, that sounds like fun. I’ve never read a book in a tree…

    SM, you like Anne Rice?! Cool!

    Rania, yeah.. the lack of support when it comes to reading is very depressing. As for the reasons, I guess it is a mixture of all that you mentioned as well as other factors, such parenting.THere are some parents who don’t encourage their kids to read! It’s sad. It’s true about education too.. I absolutely love what you said about that!

    Rowdy, :)

    Ziad, lol, tab raheeb. Hayni tle3et mofeedeh :P
    And yeah, I did go with “Ruba”, which is why I’m so insisant on “Roba” now!

    Nisreen, NBO! And hey, it’s not the first time you’re mentioned, you just never noticed ;)

  9. I went to school in the US back when i was in 4th grade. We had a weekly activity where the teacher gave us catalogs to order books from. We would each take it home, choose the books we wanted, and get the money from our parents. Then beginning of the week the teacher would send out the orders, and by the end of the week the books would arrive along with new catalogs to order new books.

    Back then I still remember some of the titles I read: Moby Dick, The Mall from Outer Space, Into the Dream, The trouble with Jacks Double, Elvis Presley, Pile`.

    While in Jordan, untill I started university, I don’t remember ever reading a book outside of my school books.

  10. Omar Assi

    I remember you wrote Roba Assi on my Harry Potter collection! Which I might add is my favorite book collection.

  11. LOL, yes, I read them before you did :P

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