Beirut Book Fair

December 7th, 2008 | Posted in Beirut, Culture

    Daily Star. By Souad Habka. Saturday, December 06, 2008

    Photo: Beirut in the early evening.

BEIRUT: Beirut is attempting to reclaim its status as the “international book capital” this year at the 52nd Beirut Book Fair, and is taking special aim at younger readers. Organizers of the book fair are pleased that more than 210 exhibitors are taking part in this year’s edition following a two-year hiatus due to political and security tensions in the country. The participation rate is up by some 20 percent compared to the last edition of the event, and 192 private and 18 government exhibitors are on hand from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Palestine and Oman and Lebanon.

The organizers also pointed to an increase in exhibition space, up to 5,500 square meters at the sprawling BIEL premises, where most tastes in books can be catered to.

According to the Arab Cultural Club, which is organizing the event, more than 60,000 students have paid a visit, while an average of 2,000 adults attend the exhibition every day, to scour the shelves for good deals on books, new and old, as well as take advantage of the week-long series of more than 40 seminars and lectures by publishers and prominent figures from the Arab publishing and literature scene.

Encouraging children to read is a central aim this year. The book fair’s 2008 edition is promoting reading with more than 30 activities performed by professional nanny Maha Tohme at the “children’s area,” and a larger space dedicated to children’s publishers.

The organizers said that a few years ago Tohme scheduled only a single event during the book fair, but has benefited from a dramatic increase in public interest.

Dar Onboz is offering one of the most original stands with its colorful display, as the publishing house making its first appearance at the Beirut fair.

Nadine Touma said Dar Onboz was motivated by a desire to “unravel the mysteries of childhood” and a firm conviction that a difference in the quality of life, for young and old, can be spurred by art and culture.

Touma said her publishing house was trying to blaze a path that has yet to be exploited in the Arab world, namely improving the quality of graphic novels.

The expanded exhibition space and higher number of exhibitors hasn’t pleased everyone, and Beirut Book Fair participants are known for finding fault with the arrangements each year.

“This isn’t our usual exhibition stand, but still we’re exceeding our sales expectations,” said Raymond Matta, from Dar al-Samir.

The country’s security tensions might have eased in recent months, but a general unease with media coverage, even of a book fair, was noticeable.

A representative from the leading publishing house Dar An-Nahar repeatedly said, “I don’t like the media” when asked about how things were going, admitting only that Arabic-language political books, as usual, were proving very popular.

A number of adult fair-goers also acknowledged that they might have benefited from an emphasis on reading encouragement during their childhood.

“We don’t always read what we buy,” was a typical response.

The renowned Lebanese actor Rafik Ali Ahmad made a similar acknowledgment as he stood at the BIEL doors, when asked if he was excited by the prospect of making purchases, taking them home and devouring their pages.

“I’m obliged to read,” Ali Ahmad said with a shrug.

The exhibition will close on Thursday, December 11.

Top-sellers at the fair, according to preliminary statistics from the Arab Cultural Club:

Islam and religion: “Umdat al-Raghib,” Al-Shaykh Abdullah al-Hirari

Politics: “From Hasan Nasrallah to Michel Aoun,” Fayez Qazzi

Science: “Encyclopedia of Family Health,” Dar al-Ilm al-Malayin

Art: “International Cooking Series,” Dar al-Ilm al-Malayin

Autobiography: “Jass al-Nabad (Taking the Pulse),” Riad al-Rayyes Publishing

Leave a comment

Upcoming events