By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Al Ameri: ‘An Awakening To Be Found’Longer—much longer—than the industry of books has dealt with digitization or online piracy or the rise of retail platforms, it has dealt with what might be called its optics problem.
Even publishing professionals can be heard proudly calling avid young reader “bookworms,” not realizing that sensitive young souls may not feel the optics of that compliment put them where they’d like to be, with the cool kids. And at its worst, the trend gets us into bullying—at all ages. You don’t have to be a youngster to feel the chill of criticism, we’ve all heard it:
- “You’re always reading, you egghead.”
- “You’re so antisocial, you like your books better than people.”
- “Why don’t you stop reading so much and get a life?”
And that’s what makes the Sharjah Book Authority’s new pro-reading campaign so interesting. Arrive at the authority’s home page, and you’re looking at a shot of a fine horseman’s stable room and the campaign’s slogan, If you’re into something, you’re into books. In other words, whatever your interest may be, there’s a book about it.
The campaign, activated on Sunday (August 15) features signage in various parts of the emirate and, reportedly, in several Arab cities. It uses social media outreach, and, of course, video. This one in Arabic, in three days racked up an impressive 405,404 views:
We’ll add another video from the campaign for you at the bottom of this article in English.
Meanwhile, what professionals in publishing who travel will recognize is a kind of reversal in terms of address in this new campaign, a subtle shift to a direct address from one of the most iconic pro-reading campaigns in the world.
The United Kingdom’s long-running “Books Are My Bag” campaign plays on the reader-consumer’s fondness for showing off her or his pleasure in books, using limited-edition annually issued tote bags and broad displays of energetic media play.
By contrast, the Sharjah ‘You’re Into Books’ campaign turns it around and talks to the reader-consumer, and in a cleverly flattering way. Each person pictured in the program’s cast of characters may not think of him- or herself as a reader.
A vinyl music fan looks too savvy to have thought of himself as being into books. The tutu-ed tyke with the not-at-all balletic style hasn’t imagined herself a books person. The horseman sits in his atmospheric hideaway, complete with a last-century television set, and holds a riding crop in his hands–not a book.
The Sharjah message arrives not as something each of these representative folks is telling us but as something they’re just learning: “You’re into books.”
Al Ameri: ‘We Want More Readers in All Fields’
It won’t surprise Publishing Perspectives readers that the energy behind this new campaign, now being rolled out in the Gulf region, is Ahmed Al Ameri, chair of Sharjah Book Authority and the driving force behind the emirate’s annual Sharjah International Book Fair (this year November 3 to 13); Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival; the Sharjah Publishing City trade zone project; and director of such a long series of guest-of-honor appearances at world trade shows and book fairs that it could only be slowed down by a coronavirus pandemic.
“We want more books of a kind,” Al Ameri says, “and we also want more readers in all fields.
“We want more diversity,” Al Ameri says, “and more books, and more readers reading in every field.
“Every person who finds a book that suits her or his interest takes a firm step into the world of knowledge and learning, and that quickly turns into a lifestyle. In the pages of a book, there’s an awakening to be found, which can make life beautiful and meaningful for every reader. I believe that at that moment, the world turns magical.”
In Sharjah, the campaign is carrying QR codes that offer book discounts of up to 50 percent.
And as for its mission, explanatory material takes on that optics issue and the sometimes presumed elitism around reading. The goal is to get away from the idea that books are reading are “related only to literature and thought.”
Enjoyment of books isn’t “limited to those interested in novels, poetry, research, and studies,” the program says, “despite the great importance of these topics.” Instead, the campaign says, reading is “for all topics and about various interests, no matter how large or small–to confirm that those interested in sports, music, cycling, video games, fashion, and other various fields and interests.
“They are really interested in books and they just have to find the right book that’s fun for them.”
This, of course, echoes the Sharjah reading-culture ethic established by the emirate’s author-ruler, the Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi and his daughter, the publisher Bodour Al Qasimi, who now is president of the International Publishers Association (IPA). Those who have watched the royal family’s careful cultivation of a literature-led sensibility for the state recognize in events like this new campaign that vision, now appearing in city-center posters, full-length livery on buses,
Al Ameri: ‘For Every Passion, Hobby, or Interest’
“There are no people who were born with books in their hands,” Al Ameri says, “but people with varied interests become lifelong readers when they find that one, certain book, the one that means something to them.
“And this sums up our message: that for every passion, hobby, or interest, for anything in life … there’s a book.”
Al Ameri late last month was in Washington, DC, for a tour of the Library of Congress and to promote Arabic and Emirati literature in meetings with meeting with Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress.
“Cultural movements grow and prosper via open dialogue and sharing of ideas,” he was quoted saying at the time. “This is the vision of Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, which takes us around the world on our cross-cultural endeavors. Acquainting ourselves with the invaluable experiences of global cultural institutions is one of the most effective ways to ensure the success of any cultural project, and thus, a key focus area for Sharjah and the Sharjah Book Authority.”
More from Publishing Perspectives on Sharjah is here, more on the United Arab Emirates is here, more on Sharjah Book Authority is here, and more on reading is here.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.