The Dubai group that's on a mission to make reading 'cool' again
Meet the literary ladies behind the Dubai chapter of Book Fairies, which aims to get people reading again by hiding novels around the city
Shahd Thani hid her first book at last year’s Emirates Literature Festival. The blogger and novelist behind the Emirati Kinda Love Story series chose Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which she wrapped up in a bow, and bearing a green and white sticker that explained its purpose. After placing the book on a horse statue located next to Dubai Festival City’s P F Chang’s, Thani kept watch.
“The manager was utterly fascinated and kept looking at the book,” she says. “Eventually, he couldn’t resist. He asked if it was for free and if he could take it. When I assured him that he could, the joy on his face was priceless.” It’s all part of the Book Fairies spell.
Free books for all
Abeer Acero, a 27-year-old blogger and book reviewer, launched the Dubai chapter of the international Book Fairies movement in March last year with an Instagram account: @mydubaibookfairies. Having hidden more than a hundred books with the help of fellow volunteer Book Fairies, Acero has been busy this past year.
“One of my life’s missions is to make reading ‘cool’ again,” Acero says. “In this generation of gadgets, most people don’t have the time to read a book any more, and the younger ones feel like reading is boring. I want to change that stigma by letting everyone know that reading is a good and healthy exercise for the mind.”
Book drops to restart January 1
If you’ve missed past book drops, don’t worry, Acero and the Book Fairies are busy planning for the coming year. The next book drops in Dubai start January 1. “We will be doing so much for 2019,” Acero says. “I’ll be announcing a big new year fairy drop-off and, rest assured, we will be back at the Emirates Literature Festival [in March], dropping books like we always do.”
With titles such as Beetle Boy by M G Leonard, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and many more, you’re likely to stumble across a book just for you. The city’s Book Fairies have concealed titles all over, from beaches to buses and, most famously, just outside the Burj Khalifa. “It was my favourite book drop because there are a lot of people there, and the suspense of who’s going to pick it up is exciting,” says Acero.
She hid Baum’s The Wizard of Oz on a ledge in front of the towering skyscraper. “A little girl saw it and grabbed it as fast as she could. She knew the story, had watched the animated version and was clearly an avid fan. She took it straight to her mum with a smile so priceless, I couldn’t help but ask for a photo.”
The original Book Fairies
Book Fairies now operate in more than 100 countries. Volunteers are devoted to the cause of reusing and sharing books with strangers, thus minimising the impact they have on the environment, while also giving those who may not have access to books a chance to read.
The movement began more than two years ago in London, with the Books on the Underground project, and has since grown into the Book Fairies under owner and director Cordelia Oxley. Social media allowed avid readers to follow clues to metro stations, malls and other public spaces to find a book of their own. Oxley’s agenda is simple. “We promote reading, in any way we can,” she says.
Last March, ahead of International Women’s Day, Book Fairies partnered with United Nations ambassador and British actress Emma Watson. Videos went viral of Watson visiting landmarks in London and New York City, and leaving behind titles for other readers to find. She chose publications from Our Shared Shelf, her feminist book club, such as My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem and How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Each book came with a handwritten note, encouraging readers to pass it on in the same fashion once finished.
'There is not a particular genre that we share'
“The Book Fairies are all about equality,” explains Oxley. “We strive to give equal prominence to male and female authors, published and self-published authors, and a whole array of stories. Everyone has different tastes, so there is not a particular genre that we share. We accept donations from all sorts of places, including bookshops and libraries. There is a wide variety of [reading material].”
It was also as part of the International Women’s Day activities that Acero recruited Thani and other volunteers to hide titles around the grounds of the Emirates Literature Festival last year. After her first Book Fairies experience, Thani was hooked. “As a writer, poet, as well as a member of a local initiative – Untitled Chapters, a community for Emirati writers – I felt an instant kinship with Abeer and the Book Fairies,” she says. “I love the fact that different initiatives can meet and, instead of competing with one another, unite to help one another succeed and bond over our love for books and words.”
The rise of #bookstagram
Acero has been a part of the growing #bookstagram online community on Instagram since 2014, and regularly reviews books on her blog, lookingforabura.com. As a book-lover, her drive for both reading and writing propelled her into the world of Book Fairies.
“This is my first actual book project, and it has a special place in my heart,” she explains. “The Book Fairies around the world, especially Cordelia, have been very supportive. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this incredible group where we get to connect and talk to people across continents who have the same love for reading. It works like magic, really.”
Updated: December 27, 2018 11:08 AM