x

Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Millions of books under one roof evoke an age-old magic

No amount of digital ingenuity and convenience can replace the tangible joy of holding a book

Shoppers browse books at the Big Bad Wolf sale in Dubai, which has more than three million English and Arabic books across all genres with huge discounts. Reem Mohammed / The National
Shoppers browse books at the Big Bad Wolf sale in Dubai, which has more than three million English and Arabic books across all genres with huge discounts. Reem Mohammed / The National

Intellectually, we know that the reach of the internet is vast. Anyone with access to a smartphone can conjure up information instantly about the most esoteric of subjects. Today, the world’s knowledge fits in our pockets.

Emotionally, however, we remain wedded to the physical book, as the crowds flocking to the world’s biggest book sale in Dubai this week testify. No amount of digital ingenuity or convenience can ever hope to outshine the evocative magic of a book. The simple act of holding one and smelling the musk of ink and paper is to connect organically with the subject matter and the author – even the tree from which it was wrought.

The print process has been virtually unchanged since, as history has it, Johannes Gutenberg created the first book in the 15th century. Words, in whatever language we read them, are merely the latest iteration of the gift of writing, given to the world more than 5,500 years ago by the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia.

Any book, from the humblest pre-school primer to the greatest masterpiece of literature, is a tangible manifestation of the uniquely human compulsion to seek, record and communicate knowledge.

To assemble millions of such magical emissaries in one place, as the Big Bad Wolf pop-up book sale is doing this week in Dubai Studio City, is to make reading delightfully and serendipitously accessible in a way that even the largest bookshop cannot hope to match.

The sale is welcome evidence that the book continues to hold its own. In fact, last year publishers across the world enjoyed record sales, driven largely by an unexpected increase in the sale of hardback books. In the Mena region, where governments are investing increasingly in education and Arabic learning tools, more than 10 million people have attended book fairs this year alone, in cities from Dubai, Riyadh and Bahrain to Baghdad, Casablanca and Alexandria. More than two million are expected to pour through the doors of Sharjah International Book Fair alone later this month.

Books connect us to the world and offer a window into the human condition. Pick one up today. It could change your world.