Book fairs in a country of book haters

Published: December 27, 2010

The book fair had a huge variety of writers

“Me and books?” was the sarcasm filled reply, I often heard during my early years when I asked peers, “Which book have you read recently?”. This was my idea of making conversation,  but those around me would rather discuss the latest fast food deals in town. Hence, I spent many hours of my life reading and writing on my own, talking to books, wondering how to share the love of words.

However, the situation seems to have improved. Or perhaps there are just more places for me to discover other bookworms like me now.

One such venue is the Karachi International Book Fair which takes place annually. This year the sixth edition was organised and while I expected the Karachi Expo Centre to have a good number of visitor, the place was actually swarming with people.

People were not there just to pass time but were actually interested in buying books, judging from the fact that you could not look through one shelf for more than five minutes without being pushed. Enthusiastic strangers even offered feedback on your potential purchases and you had to stand in queue at the payment counters.

Atiya Abbas, a mass communications student is visiting the five-day long show every day. She says:

“I am loving it because I am a book freak. I run into friends, who one can recommend books to. All this gives me a serious high. I love discussing books and getting recommendations.”

It seemed like people from all corners of Karachi had come 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 (or famous name) I laid my eyes on.

Too expensive for book-lovers

The range was amazing. The fair had everything from textbooks to fairy tales, from Ghalib’s letters to interactive DVDs on Allama Iqbal to Turkish recipe books but some people felt the discounts were disappointing.

They reminded me of a story I did on the reading culture in Pakistan, in which I argued “if people can spend a thousand rupees on a meal, why not on a book?”

The answer is simple.

Clearly many people do not feel they can get enough value for the money when they spend on books. You read books until it is a necessity in Pakistan, which is usually during academic life alone. 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 the 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. 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 book lovers to the book fairs more often.


Ayesha Hoda

A PR professional based in Karachi. She writes on literature and social issues.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.