Published on The Express Tribune Blog
“Me and books?” – a question (full of sarcasm) I often heard during my childhood and teenage life, in response to the innocent query, “Which book have you read recently?”
That was my idea of making conversation while most of my peers wanted to discuss the latest fast food deals in town. Hence, I have spent many hours of my life reading and writing on my own, talking to books, wondering how to share the love of words.
The situation has improved however. Or perhaps there are more venues today to discover my community members (other bookworms), roaming the city in search of the latest titles.
One such venue is the Karachi International Book Fair which takes place annually. This year the sixth edition was organized and while I expected Karachi Expo Centre to have a good number of visitors (as it was open to the public), the place was actually swarming with bookaholics.
What was impressive and unexpected was that people were not visiting just to pass time or roam around. They were actually interested in buying books – judging from the fact that you could not stick to one shelf for more than five minutes without being pushed; enthusiastic strangers offered feedback on your potential purchases and you had to stand in queue at the payment counters.
“I am loving it because I am a book freak and running into friends, who one can recommend books to, gives me a serious high… I love discussing books and getting recommendations,” shared Atiya Abbas, a mass communication student and a fellow colleague, who was a daily visitor to the five-day long show.
People seemed to have come from all corners of Karachi to the fair – one couldn’t really stereotype and say they belonged to a particular locality or socio-economic class or age group, which reveals that there is still a pretty wide and diverse audience for books.
“Never judge a book by its cover,” I kept repeating to myself to control the impulse to buy every attractive cover (and famous name) I laid my eyes on. Though the range was amazing – from textbooks to fairy tales, from Ghalib’s letters to interactive DVDs on Allama Iqbal to Turkish recipe books – some people felt the discount rates were disappointing.
They reminded me of the story I compiled earlier this year, for a monthly magazine, on the reading culture in Pakistan, in which the publishers argued, “If people can spend a thousand rupees on a meal, why not on a book?”
The answer is simple: for those who can afford to buy books, it is all about a mindset. Clearly many people do not feel they can get enough value for the money they spend on books. Reading books is mostly a necessity in Pakistan, which often ceases to be one once academic life is over. Others who read books for leisure often do not find enough venues (like book clubs or reading parties) to share knowledge and build their interest. But things are changing with events like Karachi International Book Fair and Karachi Literature Festival, and the growth in the number of writers from this region.
May be it has also become fashionable to have read Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid, Elizabeth Gilbert, Dan Brown and Paulo Coelho. But that’s actually good news for the publishing world. One cannot emphasize enough on the need to continuously promote the industry as a whole. It’s really all about bringing the right people (book lovers) to the right place (book fairs) more often.