x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The UAE creative community's summer reading list

With so much literary choice around, what are the UAE's creative types choosing to read this summer?

Open Mic DJ Zahra Soar, on DubaiEye 103.8, lists Dave Eggers' latest tome Zeitoun, and Neil McCormick's Killing Bono as her top reads this summer.
Open Mic DJ Zahra Soar, on DubaiEye 103.8, lists Dave Eggers' latest tome Zeitoun, and Neil McCormick's Killing Bono as her top reads this summer.

It's still summer, and you've watched all your DVDs, borrowed everyone else's and are sick of the cinema. So what next? Well, perhaps try picking up a book. And why not indeed? Stop your brain from turning to tripe by seeking inspiration in a spot of reading. Ah, but what book, you cry. That's the thing. It may seem like the perfect opportunity to wade through that copy of War and Peace winking at you from the bookshelf, but how dull is that? Reading is something that should feel like a treat, not a punishment. A good book is something to get excited over, to rave about to others, not a chore to plod through for an obligatory 20 minutes every evening.

Wander into any bookshop, though, and the choice can seem daunting. Stacks of the things, piled high, all crisp and inviting. But you face a kind of panicked paralysis when it comes to actually selecting one of them versus another. Well, fear not. We have spoken to some of the UAE's artistic minds, whose jobs demand they keep themselves abreast of all things creative all year long. Beat off that summer malaise by taking heed from them: cast your eye over their reading lists and see if you feel inspired.

I always find time to read. The challenge, however, is to find enough of that scarce resource. I have to resort to reading in short but frequent bursts rather than long reading sessions. I have read a few books this summer. The Flipside: Finding the Hidden Opportunities in Life by Adam J Jackson, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, The Innocent Mage and its follow-up The Awakened Mage both by Karen Miller. I like Karen Miller's writing so much that I went ahead and purchased six of her books in one fell swoop.

I was an early adopter of the original Kindle as soon as it was released because I felt this really changed everything. I quickly went on a mad shopping spree and purchased more books than I can probably read in one lifetime. However, I only started reading one of those selections and never really got to finish it. I was disappointed with the electronic format and was convinced that nothing would change my mind.

Fast forward a few years, and I somehow feel the Apple iPad is going to be able to achieve what the Kindle had difficulty doing. For some reason, I find the reading experience on the iPad very pleasant, and I think it will be my next travel companion - loaded up with some great reading material.

My life certainly winds down during Ramadan, and I get to do more reading. I've just finished Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. My family spent a few years in New Orleans during the 1990s, and I have always been interested in literature about the city. Our home has shelves of books on its music, art, history and food. I decided to read this book because its been almost five years since Hurricane Katrina. The injustices that the [nonfiction book's] family suffered are absolutely heartbreaking, yet without Eggers, I don't think this story would ever have been told. He subtly illustrates how there is more to America's domestic problems than Bush-bashing. I would definitely recommend it.

Music-wise, I am ploughing through Alex James's autobiography, Bit of a Blur, and Neil McCormick's Killing Bono. The autobiography of James, the bassist of 1990s' supergroup Blur, is selfish, badly written and arrogant. I bought it both because I'm learning the bass and also because I love Blur. Now I feel perhaps his bandmates Graham Coxon, Damon Albarn or even Dave Rowntree would have given a deeper insight to the band during the Brit Pop years. Yes, he has had a good life, but in the end reading this book is almost like being forced to trawl through a debaucherous version of Eat, Pray, Love.

With two small kids at home, who run me off my feet, I rarely get time to read, although I really do love being immersed in a good book. A book has to grab me from the first few lines, especially when you are constantly being interrupted or are so tired you fall asleep after two pages. Recently, I have been enjoying books by Jodi Picoult; I find her style engaging and her topics and characters hit very close to home.

Currently, I am reading the first in the trilogy by Stieg Larsson. His books come highly recommended and I find his style rich in detail and fast moving. One of the most moving books I ever read was Mao's Last Dancer, an account of the author, Li Cunxin's life. He went from extreme poverty to stardom in the West. I was inspired to write a song, entitled, Strong at Heart, after reading this book.

I am currently reading Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza - from the great graphic novelist, it's a sweeping, original investigation of a forgotten crime in the most vexed of places. Rafah, a town at the bottom-most tip of the Gaza Strip, is a squalid place. Raw concrete buildings front trash-strewn alleys. The narrow streets are crowded with young children and unemployed men. On the border with Egypt, swaths of Rafah have been bulldozed to rubble. Rafah is today and has always been a notorious flashpoint in this most bitter of conflicts.

I used to always make excuses that I never had time to read or that I was too tired, but now I make the time. I'm particularly into history books, especially focusing around the 1930s and the Second World War, and the early to mid-19th century. Can you tell I did history for my degree? This summer, I really enjoyed Denis Lehane's The Given Day and Justin Cronin's The Passage which was great. I read all 800 pages in about a week.

I also tried to read David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which got rave reviews, but I just couldn't grasp or get into the style of writing. Because of my work, I read screenplays from time to time. I had three contacts send me theirs recently, Der Englander, Unpredictable and Poles Apart. Der Englander is a very well-written script by Sam Hoare and Martin Ledwith, based on the 1930s English racing car driver Richard Seaman who went to race for Mercedes Benz in the run up to the Second World War. It'll make a good film if it gets made.

It's too hot outside to do anything, so the best thing to do is stay home during the day and read a book. I am into ones that help motivation and self-improvement, and I love romantic novels. Jane Austen is my favourite. Normally when on holiday, I like to take my magazines with me - things about fashion, Hollywood and Bollywood. I am a movie lover, and I enjoy the gossip.

This summer, I finished 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers. It is such an amazing book. I learned so much; how to deal with people around me, how to win a battle without fighting hard. It surely made me wiser.