Yahoo Maktoob recently released some research on reading habits in the Arab world.
The survey polled 3,503 online folks, which means that it should definitely be taken with several grains of salt. Internet penetration in the Arab world does not go beyond 35%, and the fact that the poll takers are online already says a lot about them.
Here are the findings, my observations in brackets:
1. A quarter of people in the Arab world hardly ever or never read books for personal enjoyment (I would think that this figure is much higher, closer to 50%)
2. People in Jordan, Lebanon and Algeria read the least, with more than 30 percent of respondents in these countries stating that they hardly ever or never read (how embarrassing for Jordan!)
3. The countries that read the most: Bahrain, Egypt and Morocco, followed Iraq and the United Arab Emirates
4. Historical fiction is the most popular genre of literature in the Arab world with 14 percent of the overall vote, followed by political with 12 percent (this is a very big WTF, HISTORICAL FICTION? SERIOUSLY?)
The weirdest part of the survey though was the list of most popular authors, ranked in order of popularity:
1. Naguib Mahfouz (Egyptian)
2. Mohamed Hassanein Heikal (Egyptian)
3. Ahlam Mosteghanemi (Algerian)
4. Tayeb Salih (Sudanese)
5. Edward Said (Palestinian-American)
6. Alaa El Aswany (Egyptian)
7. Nawal Sa’adawi (Egyptian)
8. Abdul Rahman Munif (Saudi Arabia)
9. Youssef Zidan (Egyptian)
10. Amin Maalouf (Lebanese)
There lies our problem, and the dismal numbers of readers.
Edward Said? Heikal? Naguib Mahfouz? Nawal Sa’adawi? SERIOUSLY?
These authors don’t exactly write the most enjoyable books. Don’t get me wrong, they’re most definitely amazing authors, but you can’t really encourage kids to read by handing them a copy of Edward Said’s “Orientalism”. I have been a bookworm my entire life, and it took me years and many re-readings to even begin understanding his work. I’m still suffering with Naguib Mahfouz.
The best selling titles in Arabic are intellectualist, pushing away the younger generations from reading. Reading, after all, is all about enjoyment. It is only after you know how to enjoy the act of reading with truly entertaining books that you will start enjoying reading heavier content a la Edward Said.
We need more Arabic pulp fiction. We need more best sellers that have nothing to do with politics, history, and religion. We need mysteries like Nancy Drew. We need romances like Sydney Sheldon. We need thrillers like Stephen King.
The act of reading isn’t just about learning. It is also about enjoyment. Until we have a wide array of titles that would suit the common taste, those book stats won’t be getting high.
Any budding authors out there?