BEIRUT: “Well, it seems that females are much more interested in buying and reading books than males.” This is the view of Hasan Yaghi, from the Arab Cultural Center publishing house, which is taking part in Beirut International Arab Book Fair this year. “When a couple takes a look at our stands, it’s the girl who chooses books and appears more passionate about reading,” Yaghi said, offering the explanation that girls and women generally have more free time to read and don’t shoulder as many responsibilities as males do.
Yaghi’s publishing house is one of more than 200 Arab and Lebanese publishing houses participating in the 53rd round of Beirut International Arab book fair.
The “dean” of the country’s book fair opened on Friday at its now-familiar lodgings at the Beirut International Entertainment and Leisure Center (BIEL), but the 2009 edition is offering more this time around, whether it’s significantly more exhibition space, or Lebanon’s latest attempt to crack a Guinness Bookn record.
This year’s 13-day exhibition is coinciding with Beirut’s turn as the World Book Capital, and the book fair is offering some new programs and activities. In addition to holding lectures, seminars, children’s plays, book signings and ceremonies to honor achievement, the exhibition is hosting a gathering of Arab novelists. Lebanese and Arab novelists – among them Emily Nasrallah, Bahaa Taher, Rashid al-Daif, Mohammad Barada, Elias Khoury, and Alawiya Sobh – will convene in five seminars over several days to discuss how the Arab novel is evolving, amid political and social developments.
Despite the nasty weather that pelted the country during the fair’s opening weekend, a number of publishing house representatives agreed that sales and attendance were showing promise, compared to previous editions of the fair.
“Although it’s still too early to judge, and in spite of the stormy weather, I can say that the level of book sales is much better compared to last year,” said Nasser Fleiti, from Riad El-Rayyes publishing house.
While some publishers said the public was seeking out a wide variety of books this year, others pointed to a jump in interest in novels and political books this year.
“Until now, novels and books that deal with political topics constitute the bulk of our sales,” said Hana Basma, from Al-Saqi publishers.
But the centerpiece for many visitors to this year’s fair won’t be the latest novel, or political expose, but simply, the largest book in the world.
“Beirut, Destruction Wars and Construction Horizons” is being displayed in a special corner at BIEL. A 304-page book might not sound very special, but this one happens to weigh 1,060 kilograms. It pictures sights from Downtown Beirut, Rafik Hariri International Airport, and the Camille Chamoun City Sportive during earlier phases of destruction, and after post-war reconstruction. The book’s photographer-author, Ayman Trawi, took these shots starting from early 1980s, and the massive tome, which entered the Guinness collection, will be exhibited around the world in the near future.
Naturally, visitors have their own opinion about the book fair, and regular customers can often be difficult to please. Huda al-Sibaii, a Kuwaiti university student in Beirut, said she wasn’t that satisfied with the content of the this year’s exhibition.
“Although there are many more publishing houses than previous years, there’s not such a variety of books … most of them are religious books,” she said. “I visit the book fair every year, and I used to buy many more books in the past.”
The Beirut Book Fair will run until December 24 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.