One of the many bookshops in al-Raml Tram Station, Alexandria
– Photograph by me
My best childhood memories were when we go to Alexandria in the summer. Those moments I spent loitering around the scattered book booths in Al-Raml tram station. In Egypt, you can find a book booth in every corner, and a bookshop on every street. I can still remember that very young shopkeeper who told me: “Let me choose the best novels I’ve read for you”. The novels she recommended were truly the best and from that moment, I learned to always read books recommended by people who really understand the meaning of reading! I say this because I can still remember every novel and every name of the characters.
We never had a library in the three public schools I studied in when I was a child. And the library in the university I attended lacked so many books that it surprised me that it was considered a university library. That being said, I am still grateful that it introduced me to the best short novel I have read in my life, “The Old Man and The Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. That novel taught me a precious lesson in life: “Life is nothing but a journey that we go through it only once. Whatever happens in our lives, happy or sad, it’s not up to us. But it’s up to us how to receive and deal with these events.”
Although the internet is full of weightless, scentless e-books that are becoming so popular, they can never, compete with the dashing paper books. Call me old fashion but there is nothing compared to feeling the book in your hands! After asking around, I always check the recommended books, and I follow strict rituals when choosing what I read. My rituals start with reading the table of contents, and then reading the first page of specific eye-catching chapters. I then quickly skim randomly through the pages. If I can link what I’ve just skimmed with something in my life, I know the writer didn’t randomly use fillers to increase the size of the book. The moment I realize that the book is a page turner, my cash is in my hand and I know I just met a new best friend! As soon as I get my book, I imprint my name, the date and place where I bought the book from. Then I write what I expect to discover in this book. When I read it, I fill it with so passionate comments as if I’m having a conversation with the writer.
I don’t read books from cover to cover, except novels. My impatient passion pushes me to cruise between the chapters that interest me the most. When I’m done reading, I register my impression on the last page of the book, to remain a reference down the line.
Arabs and Reading
What concerns me is that in my culture, reading is not promoted as I would like. Recent statistics show that the average time Arabs spend reading is 10 minutes a year. On the other hand, Europeans spend 36 hours a year on reading. The number of books we publish every year in the entire Arab world doesn’t reach 5 thousand books, while it exceeds 200 thousand in Europe and North America.
The books we publish are a result of poor education systems that are based on memorizing rather than critical thinking, and political regimes that repress rather than encourage freedom of speech. It’s a shame that even our best sellers in the Arab world write about things that evolve around the unseen, the afterlife, cooking, astrology, etc. They should really focus on a further perspective as life is so full of limitless knowledge such as science, history, culture and the like!
Chaotic Reading Vs. Goal-Specific Reading
Nowadays, we waste most of our time reading whatever comes our way (forwards, posts on our Facebook wall, links in our Twitter timeline, etc.), without clear and focused directions of what to read and why. This is what I call chaotic reading. It is caused by the massive amount of information on the internet. If you don’t control the information you read, you will end up reading a lot of unrelated information to your goals or limiting your reading to what others read.
What I Read Now
So many buzzes around self-development books and so little impression it leaves on me! I stopped reading these kinds of book because I discovered life cannot be taught by theories and hypothesis. So I now focus more on reading history and biographies. Sometimes I read novels to runaway to those imaginary worlds or as Richard Peck said once: “I read because one life is not enough.”