x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

If you can tweet, join the club

Two Dubai-based book clubs are using Twitter to bring together social-media geeks and literature lovers.

Anastasia Mankhaeza helped to bring together the Twitter Book Club.
Anastasia Mankhaeza helped to bring together the Twitter Book Club.

Two Dubai-based book clubs are using Twitter to bring together social-media geeks and literature lovers. #Twitbookclub and @arabicbookclub have attracted scores of book lovers to their monthly meetings and Twitter accounts.

Started in December, the Twitter Book Club has 382 followers, while the Arabic Book Club has grown to 410 followers since it launched in April. "It was created by the Twitter community online," said Anastasia Mankhaeza, an organiser for the club. "We knew there were book clubs in Dubai, but they are exclusive to just 10 to 15 people, maximum, and they discuss for two to three hours. In today's world we don't have the luxury to use three hours to talk about one book."

Every third Saturday of the month, members of the Twitter Book Club gather in Dubai and settle in to discuss, in 15- to 20-minute intervals, each of four books they selected at the previous meeting. About 15 people attend the monthly meetings, and the faces are often different. "It was just organised on Twitter," Ms Mankhaeza said. "But we take the philosophy of twittering, which is only 140 characters, live into the book club.

"We have short discussions about books and even if you haven't read a book you can listen and learn more about books that you haven't heard of before." The group has chosen a wide variety of literature to discuss, from classics such as To Kill a Mockingbirdto graphic novels such as Persepolis. "The reason that book clubs here are exclusive is because people with similar interests get together," Ms Mankhaeza noted.

"But my personal philosophy is 'take what you want and leave the rest behind'. You don't have to read the classics if you don't want to." Members are expected to read only the books that interest them, or even none at all. "As far as I'm concerned, it's more of a social opportunity than a literary one," said Hisham Wyne, a columnist, radio commentator and copywriter. "That being said, I will not miss a meeting of the book club if I can help it, even if I'm not reading any of the books."

The club has inspired members such as Abdulla Alsuwaidi, a student at Sharjah University. Mr Alsuwaidi launched the second book club, which reads only Arabic literature. "I felt bad that I never read in Arabic," Mr Alsuwaidi said. "So I thought this would be a good way to start. We never hear about Arabic authors at all and they aren't really covered in the media." Arabic Book Club followers use tweets mostly to discuss Arabic literature, though there is also a Google list and a monthly get-together for members in Dubai.

About 20 people attend a typical meeting. "We don't know what's a good book in Arabic. "Most of the members are like me and don't read Arabic that much, so it's an experience to find each book and learn about what is out there," he said. Mr Alsuwaidi said the club's followers vote on which books to read, and often pick new or recently popularised books. Each time a book is chosen, Mr Alsuwaidi tweets about it, and followers throughout the GCC begin their discussions.

"When we see tweets off of someone else, we will re-tweet it if we think someone else might have input," he said. "Then another person can tweet on the comment. Some people who don't know each other can connect. We are like a nexus." #Twitbookclub and @arabicbookclub might have been started by tech-savvy book lovers, but members come from all cultural backgrounds, and are not all members of Dubai's twitterati.

Both book clubs' organisers stress that the events are open to the community, online and off. "I think that social media brings people together more frequently and more often," Mr Wyne said. Using Twitter to organise a book club is not new, however. Some have used Twitter to overcome geographical boundaries, such as One Book, One Twitter. Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing and a contributing editor at Wired magazine, launched the One Book, One Twitter scheme in May hoping to form "one massive, international book club" by using Twitter to discuss American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. The account has more than 7,500 followers.

Gaiman's book, which depicts a battle between old gods and new gods, is included in the Twitter Book Club's selected reads for its September meeting. @Email:mdetrie@thenational.ae