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Rediscovering the joy of books

By Hanan Alnufaie

THE youth have a powerful role to play in any society because every positive step they take is widely noticed in the community they live in and influence the behavior of their peers.

With their pioneering projects, many young Saudi men and women have become role models in universities, at public events and on social media. One such initiative is to promote the habit of reading in society.

Three groups of young people Saudi Gazette met with at Riyadh International Book Fair have different ideas to achieve their goal. One suggested creating bibliographies and organizing workshops to discuss reading problems, the second talked about book exchanges and the third wanted to promote the reading habit through social media campaigns. All of them were motivated by their increased awareness about the benefits of reading.

Kotobji is a non-profit platform for book lovers. Its main aim is to promote reading and enrich reading content through personal experiences, research and book discussions.

Kotobji also organizes workshops on reading issues. The club members include highly qualified people who choose to be part of the change to make reading a daily habit in Saudi society.

“What makes Kotobji different is that we compile bibliographies of books intended to make people’s lives better and help them cope with the stress of modern life,” said Shurooq Hashim, a leading member of the club.

“The idea of book clubs is very popular in the West but it does not exist here in Saudi Arabia. People still get surprised when we talk to them about it at our booth. The co-founder of the platform is a psychologist who studied abroad and he brought the idea to the Kingdom,” Hashim said.

Many studies conducted on the effectiveness of the initiative found it very useful, she added.

At their booth at the book fair venue, Kotobji members distributed two different registration forms: one for people who want to receive their bibliographies and the other for people who want to be part of Kotobji. “We basically look for researchers, translators, writers and people with excellent communication skills to be part of our team,” she said.

“Reading Club” at King Saud University (KSU) introduced another initiative, which is recycling books. The students of the university participated at the book fair bringing this idea into focus.

They designed simple bookracks for each genre, so visitors can bring books that they have read and exchange them with the ones already in the racks, said Abdulhakeem Alshammari, a KSU student.

At last year’s book fair, 11,000 titles were exchanged this way, he said.

“We still face a problem because the idea is not very popular in our society. However, we promote the idea through social media and by participating in book fairs,” he added.

He said the Reading Club at KSU was the first to come up with this initiative. “In the future we plan to introduce this idea online. We are already working on it. We will launch a website in which everyone can post a picture of the book they have. Then they contact each other through the website for exchange purposes. The advantage of the website is that it will be available throughout the year. Unfortunately, we got busy with our exams and preparations for the book fair,” Alshammari said.

“Reading Friends” is an initiative started in 2011. Its main focus is to promote reading among all members of society. “We use social media as a platform for book recommendations, reviews, discussions, analysis and criticism. We have different initiatives on social media, especially Twitter. We issue quarterly bulletins listing most recommended books. It also includes book reviews and discussions,” a club representative said.

The club organizes reading evenings on social media in which a day is specified for book reviews, discussions and analyses. “Every year, when we participate in the book fair, we bring the most sought-after books by the best authors based on a survey of our social media followers,” he added.

The group always gives its followers on social media the space to make suggestions and recommendations. “We achieved part of the goal set and we aim to target more people in the Middle East region in general. Now we have 200,000 followers on Twitter. There is a big shift in how our society sees reading as a hobby. Two years ago, the number of visitors to book fairs was much less than what it is today,” he said.