It’s a juicy time for bookworms in the UAE. The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair has just wrapped up, the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival is under way and the Emirates literary festival a couple of months ago saw heavyweights such as Simon Armitage descend upon us. Being vaguely busy recently, I haven’t been able to attend any of the delicious events, but I am immensely jealous of everyone who did get to meet some of the authors flocking into the country.
Nick Arnold, the writer of the Horrible Science series, was doing a workshop here. I didn’t go for fear of appearing juvenile, but Arnold effectively shaped my childhood with his wonderfully charming titles – Disgusting Digestion! Bulging Brains! Deadly Diseases! – which had the added appeal of featuring on its cover a pair of hairy feet covered in red pustules, with green toenails. In retrospect, the literary diet of my childhood does seem mildly repulsive. Maybe that explains how I turned out.
I was having a quick browse through the front display of Magrudy’s recently – by quick browse, I mean I settle on the floor with a book. The sales assistant invariably sneaks up behind me, looks pointedly at the page number I’ve reached without buying the thing and makes me jump by rapping out: “How may I help you?” At which point I jump and stammer: “Sorry, I was just looking.”
Sheryl Sandberg’s impeccably made-up face beams from the cover of Lean In right at the entrance of Magrudy’s. There have been so many newspaper reviews that I feel I’ve read enough about women in the workplace to last me a lifetime. It’s an enormously important topic, and I know we ladies will have to work hard to shatter the overused phrase “glass ceiling”.
However, Lean In will have to wait for next time; I trotted home with a lovely bag of a Tennyson anthology and P?D James’s Original Sin, and one of the most prominently displayed volumes, Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer. It amazes me how Archer turns something as potentially dull as a legal battle or a political election into a riveting page-turner, never once letting your attention wander. Typically – and frustratingly – the novel ends in suspense, so of course we readers will have to cough up for the next one in the series of five books.
I enjoy the occasional splurge, but much as we’d like to buy the whole shop, teenagers’ budgets never do extend too far. I thoroughly enjoy my visits to the Old Library in Mall of the Emirates, a cosy place that’s being continuously updated. It’s a joy to be able to flick through titles such as The Dog Who Came in From the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith, intriguingly enough about a Pimlico terrier recruited by MI6. Happily, libraries do let you browse without poking an unwelcome nose in your cloud of bliss. It’s essential to read at least half of any book before checkout, after all, to avoid subjecting yourself to hours of ennui at home for lack of readable material.
The writer is a 17-year-old student in Dubai