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.

  • tipu

    One who reads Mustansar Hussain Tarar cant forget “Pyar Ka Pehla Sheher”. Novel has 55 editions now.Recommend

  • Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    I couldn’t get the chance to visit book fair this time but I have been regular visitor for many years. It has always been so good to see great volumes available with good discount. As an ardent fantasy reader I found many books which were otherwise difficult to get.Recommend

  • Dr. Amyn Malik

    Its nice to see people throng such fairs even here.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    You read books until it is a necessary in Pakistan, which is usually during academic life alone.

    Dear moderator,

    I have no bone to pick with your blogs but the sentence above should be “You read book until it is a necessity in Pakistan, which is usually during academic life alone.”Recommend

  • Ayesha Hoda

    @ Saad: I agree. Just human error I guess :) Also, this was: “They reminded me of a story I did on the reading culture in Pakistan, in which some book publishers argued, “If people can spend a thousand rupees on a meal, why not on a book?”Recommend

  • Amadeus

    It’s an awesome event. I hope they continue to hold it on an annual basis.Recommend

  • kalim

    thumbs up ayesha hoda!!!
    i m searching for the book glimpses of the history by jawahir lal nehru.
    and in return i can recommend you or lend you, man and superman & pygmalion by george bernard shaw or picture of dorian gray by oscar wilde. these are excellent books i have since long.Recommend

  • Haris Masood Zuberi

    It’s one of the best events all over Pakistan and I look fwd to it every time.
    It’s a sacred 4 day fest for book lovers and literati to spend time in complete abandon of all worries and engagements left outside the Expo Centre gates to spend hours upon hours relishing the atmosphere of cosy comfort in the company of books and book lovers. The air of serenity, goodwill, camaraderie and unity of purpose is ever so intoxicating. Perhaps all the more so owing to the absence of such tranquillity in our everyday Pakistani lives otherwise.

    My contention although has been the fact that book sellers and publishers are too darn lousy with their rates of discount. I mean come on, 15-20% max!? That’s nothing. At such literary festivals discounts should be much higher! Lousy discounts kill the purpose altogether especially for big buyers, since 15-20% is available at regular outlets every other month.

    This time the absence of two leading publishers was strange. OUP and Vanguard. Recommend

  • Ayesha Hoda

    Thanks Kalim! I don’t think I have Glimpses of History. I have read Pygmalion. Will read the other two you recommended.

    @ Haris, Agreed. But then again, they need to make profits too. Book sales the year round are not that high especially in these hard economic times.

    I noticed the absence of OUP as well although some Oxford books were available on other stalls.Recommend

  • Haris Masood Zuberi

    ‘Jawaharlal Nehru: Glimpses Of World History’ is available at Liberty. Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Please recommend some -history / biographyRecommend

  • Saad Durrani

    @Ali Hassan:
    If you are into history and biography, it would be worth reading Secular Jinnah & Pakistan – What the nation doesn’t know. Get from or check your local bookstore.

    @Haris Masood Zuberi:
    OUP has over the years lost their interest in KIBF as they have started KLF for their promotion. Strange enough, the convener was from OUP who managed the affairs of the first KIBF. They passed it to Paramount Publishing Enterprise. Iqbal Saleh Muhammad convened it for last 4 years and this year, it was given to Elite Publishers. Paramount’s presence was smaller this year.

    However, Vanguard is Lahore-based and they have not been interested, perhaps due to tough market conditions.

    I am not sure about others but where I work i.e. Paramount, we give discounts far greater than norm. I agree that some titles are discounted lowly but it is because of the very volatile market conditions. We do try to make titles available on cheap cost but at times, it gets a bit of hand.Recommend

  • Ayesha Hoda

    @ Saad, yes the Paramount stall was pretty good. In fact it was the most crowded. Where are the main Paramount outlets in Karachi?Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    @Saad Durrani:
    Many thanks Saad, will check.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    @Ayesha Hoda:
    It had to be the most crowded and the largest book company in Pakistan. We have over 100,000 titles in our main bookshop near Tariq Road. At times, you can find stuff which might be unavailable elsewhere but it might be there. However, Liberty takes the cake as it has pop fiction at its stores.Recommend

  • sAm

    I hope people get the courage to spend on books are much as they spend on new clothes, lavish food, DVD players etc. We are a nation where generally, a gift book to a child is looked upon as a sign of reluctance to give gift, while any colorful doll, racing car or video game console will be appreciated by the parents even on one’s death bed. Good article, i hope such fairs take place more often and people strand realizing that there is more to books than meets the eye.

  • http://- Syed Monawar Hoda

    **Congragulations Ayesha, for being a good writer and engrossed in books. Life can’t really ever defeat a writer who is in love with writing. I would like to quote a famous writer as:

    “To read is to empower
    To empower is to write
    To write is to influence
    To Influence is to change
    To change is to live.” Recommend