UAE aid ship sets sail to Gaza Strip from Cyprus port

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DUBAI: For many, summer is an opportunity to finally pick up that book that has been gathering dust on their bedside table all year. For others, it is an opportunity to broaden their literary horizons.

During these quieter months, certain genres often gain popularity as readers look for titles that fit the relaxed atmosphere of the season or support their personal development goals.

Whether they read for relaxation or for personal development, summer readers often face the dilemma of choosing between fiction and nonfiction.

According to author Philippe Mathijs, founder of executive and business coaching service Reach Outstanding, this choice ultimately comes down to individual taste. However, he believes that “there is a trend toward balance.”

“Non-fiction books satisfy curiosity and learning goals and cover topics from history to personal development, while fiction offers escapism and relaxation through imaginative storytelling,” he told Arab News.

Fiction remains a perennial favorite year-round, but summer is often when sales of self-help and personal development books are higher, especially among university students and young professionals, says Mathijs.

“Self-help books provide readers with practical guidance, motivation and strategies for personal and professional growth,” he said. Such books cover a wide range of topics, from career advancement and productivity to mindfulness and relationships.

An example of this is Mathijs’ own latest book, “How not to be lonely at the top”, which guides the reader through the unique challenges of senior management.

“Whether you are a CEO, manager or a rising star in your company, the book will give you the tools and knowledge you need to succeed in today’s competitive business landscape,” he said.

Philippe Mathijs, founder of executive and business coaching service Reach Outstanding. (Supplied)

Nasser Saleh, author of Under the Cover, acknowledges that choosing between fiction and nonfiction is a common dilemma for avid readers, but points out that even fiction can open paths to self-discovery.

“Currently, fiction is the more popular option, it appeals to those who like escapism and engaging storytelling,” he told Arab News.

“These readers are attracted to stories that transport them to other worlds and give them a break from everyday life.

“Under the cover” is a collection of short stories that explore the human experience. Saleh describes these stories as anecdotes that “take readers on a journey into the depths of the human mind, where the essence of their true lives remains hidden beneath the surface.”

Despite the appeal of fiction, Saleh recognizes that a significant readership prefers nonfiction—particularly genres such as memoirs, history, and biographies. He attributes the growing popularity of memoirs and autobiographies to several factors.

“Authenticity and inspiration” is one reason, says Saleh, as readers are often captivated by real-life stories and personal journeys that provide valuable insights and motivation.

This view is also supported by Shatha Al-Mutawa, founder and director of the Kutubna Cultural Center in Dubai, who attributes the demand for this genre to people’s innate curiosity to learn more about the lives of notable figures, regardless of time and place.

“We want to find answers to questions in our own lives in the strength and wisdom of others, and we want to see how people deal with challenges like the ones we face,” she told Arab News.

“This is an exciting time because we see more and more women speaking freely and openly about different aspects of their lives.”

Indeed, at a time of growing openness in the region, more and more Khaleeji women are sharing private details of their life experiences in written form, she said.

For example, Palestinian-Kuwaiti author Shahd Al-Shammari reproduces passages from her own diaries in her memoir “Head above water” – a book that deals with the intersection of gender, disability and nationality.

Dr. Al-Shammari is a Muslim community in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is an example of “cultural insight” – another factor behind the growing demand for memoirs and autobiographies in the Arab world, says Saleh.

“Memoirs provide insight into different cultures and experiences and deepen the reader’s understanding of the Arab world,” he said.

Similarly, global influences have sparked interest in memoirs and autobiographies, as the success of international bestsellers encourages readers to seek out similar narratives in their own cultural context, Saleh said.

“Although there are fewer authors from the Arab region, notable works such as ‘I was born there, I was born here’ by Mourid Barghouti and ‘Baghdad burning: Girl blog from Iraq’ by Riverbend have attracted attention,” he said.

In addition, Saleh said that realistic and historical novels are another genre that is gaining popularity in the Arabic-language book landscape.

He predicts that titles like “Gambling on the honor of Lady Mitzy” by Ahmed Al-Morsi, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction – also known as the “Arabic Booker” – last month, will be popular reading this summer.

“The book highlights the difficult realities of the early 20th century, which are very similar to the difficult realities we are experiencing today,” he said.

Author Nasser Saleh points out that even fictional works can open up paths to self-discovery. (Linked_In)

Another favorite is “A Mask the Color of Heaven” by Basim Khandaqji, which won the 2024 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

“The mask in the title of the book refers to the blue identity card of an Israeli that an archaeologist found in the pocket of an old coat in a refugee camp in Ramallah,” said Saleh.

Al-Mutawa of the Kutubna Cultural Center believes that, given the war in Gaza this summer, many readers will be interested in books by Palestinian authors.

“Even though it is difficult to export books from Palestine, authors and publishers are managing to bring us new Palestinian literature,” she told Arab News.

She pointed to books like “Alkabsula” by Kamil Abu Hneish, which looks at the way Palestinian political prisoners share their writings with the world.

Another title that she believes will be of great interest to readers worldwide, especially when translated into English, is “Kitaba khalf alkhutut” – written by several Gaza-based authors about their experiences in the ongoing war.

Adania Shibli’s novel “Small Detail,” which describes the horrific events of the Nakba – or catastrophe – in Palestine in 1948, and Rashid Khalidi’s classic “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine” are also expected to sell like hotcakes this summer as more and more people want to learn about the history of Palestine, says Al-Mutawa.

“I completely disagree with the notion that there is a shortage of writers from the Arab region,” she said, stressing that the real shortage lies in the lack of media attention and public recognition of the contributions of writers from the region.

Shatha Al-Mutawa, founder and director of the Kutubna Cultural Centre in Dubai. (Photo by Kutubna Cultural Centre)

Conversely, Al-Mutawa recommends books like “An Unsettled Home” by Kuwaiti author Mai Al-Nakib to readers who want to escape into the world of fiction this summer.

Al-Mutawa highlights the book’s distinctive portrayal of Khaleeji women, particularly in its portrayal of relations between people from the Gulf states and India.

Another book to look out for is the sequel to Saudi writer Raja Al-Sanae’s novel “Banat Al-Riyad” (Girl of Riyadh), says Al-Mutawa.

Al-Sanae recently spoke on the podcast “Imshi maa” about her life and her path as a writer and hinted at a sequel to the novel, which had previously caused a stir in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

“Let us not forget poetry, which combines fiction and non-fiction,” Al-Mutawa told Arab News.

An avid reader, she highly recommends rereading Dunya Mikhail’s The War Works Hard and is eagerly awaiting the release of the author’s latest collection, Tablets: Secrets of the Clay, due out in September.

While some readers prefer to browse the shelves of bookstores for their summer reading, others may prefer the convenience of online shopping and e-books.

Ultimately, the different formats in which books are available are geared towards different preferences and needs, said Al-Mutawa.

For example, audiobooks are ideal for people with long commutes, while lightweight e-books are convenient for on the go.

For Al-Mutawa and other book lovers, however, holding a printed copy in their hands and turning the pages is a sensual pleasure that e-books simply cannot match.

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