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Dubai: Why not join a book club?

enid@khaleejtimes.com Filed on June 24, 2021

Divyata Rajaram (Photos/Supplied)

Sarah Hedley Hymers


Author Divyata Rajaram and TV presenter, author and editor Sarah Hedley Hymers talk to us about the joys of reading and why it’s great to connect with fellow bibliophiles.

Growing up an avid reader, it was always satisfying to connect with like-minded individuals, whether friends, family members or later, office colleagues, over books we mutually loved. We would deconstruct intricate details of plotlines, discuss which characters we loved and/or hated, and much more. And if we were lucky, these conversations happened over a cup of tea or coffee in a favourite cafe, watching the world go by while we remained snugly wrapped up in our worlds of storytelling and imagination.

The best part of a book club is that it combines the joys of meeting fellow bibliophiles with a great ambience, and the takeaways are not only literary (perhaps some food for thought about that book you thought you knew so well?), but also social — isn’t it a great way to make new friends, who love books as much as you do?

Dubai’s community of readers have over the years often connected through book clubs and meetings, but face-to-face interactions became limited or non-existent with the onset of the pandemic. As the situation improves rapidly, bookworms can now look forward to the joys of meeting each other in person once again; so why not make a stop at the Festival Plaza, Jebel Ali book club in partnership with Booktopia on Saturday, June 26?

In its fourth instalment, the club will be led by TV presenter, author, and editor, Sarah Hedley Hymers and Divyata Rajaram, author of If You Only Knew Me — a psychological thriller that was featured at the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in Dubai. We caught up with both to chat about their love of literature, and why book clubs are a great way to take your passion for reading forward, or even discover it for the first time.

SARAH HEDLEY HYMERS

What is the best part of being in a book club?

Being part of a book club definitely develops a healthy reading habit. A book a month is good for the brain and the soul; it broadens your horizons and makes you a better and more empathic person by putting you in other people’s shoes, in a way only books can.

It also develops social circles and friendships, encouraging much deeper conversation than general chit-chat as you tackle the issues addressed in meaningful books.

With the pandemic restrictions eased is it great to be back with a face-to-face interaction over books?

More than 80 per cent of Dubai’s population is now fully vaccinated with two jabs, so people can move around again, and meet and mingle with more confidence, which is fabulous for book club goers. With a quieter environment that doesn’t require raised voices and comfortable distancing, book clubs are the ultimate safe space for socialising.

As a travel enthusiast, how big a part have books played in your life?

You can travel through books, so they’ve been essential to me during the pandemic as a means to cure cabin fever. Prior to that, they’ve inspired travel. I read about a place; I can’t help but want to visit.

What are some of your favourite books?

In travel, I love the Lonely Planet and DK Eyewitness guides. I have volumes of these, etched with notes — personal verdicts on the restaurants recommended; names and phone numbers of people I’ve met on the road; observations I’ve made along the way.

I can read or listen to novels on Kindle or Audible, but travel guides need to be tangible — part of the trip, something you can rest your head on or hold. In novels, Us by David Nicholls is a wonderful read, threaded with a travelogue, as a couple try to save their marriage while on a tour of Europe.

Do you feel the reading habit has been given a boost during the pandemic as many people were stuck at home?

Absolutely! The pandemic rocked the world, devastating so many, and that can’t be overlooked but some people did get the chance to slow down, reflect and take up healthy habits and hobbies and reading is definitely one of those.

How long have you been part of the Festival Plaza book club and what initially encouraged you to join?

I’ve been part of it from the start and was keen to be involved because I’ve seen first-hand how valuable book clubs can be — they really are a great way to build bonds. I think it’s hard to make deep and meaningful friendships (like the ones you make as a kid when you’re an open book — no pun intended) because we’re less likely to open up when me meet.

Book clubs get people talking about stuff that matters and that’s what accelerates friendships and brings people closer. That’s especially important for expats who don’t know many people in their new home.

If you were stranded on an island and could just have one book with you, which one would it be and why?

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I’ve been trying to read it for years and can’t get past the first page. If I was stranded on an island, I might finally get through it.

How long have you been in Dubai and how has it shaped your writing and career?

I’ve been in Dubai 12 years. Being here made me a travel writer because tourism and hospitality is the main topic in this emirate. It’s also a travel hub, centrally located in the middle of so many fabulous destinations.

As a writer do you have a particular spot in Dubai that you like to go to and work in?

I like to be in the place I’m writing about, so I spend a lot of time in hotels and restaurants, typing up reviews and observations. The words come so much more quickly and colourfully when you’re in situ — it’s soul-crushing writing from web research and press releases and should be avoided at all costs.

DIVYATA RAJARAM

What is the best part of being in a book club? Do you feel they are a good way to encourage the reading habit?

The best part of being in a book club is to connect and communicate with other book lovers. They provide a great opportunity to express ourselves and better understand diverse perspectives while broadening our own.

In a reading friendly environment, people are motivated and encouraged to develop their reading skills. One is also exposed to a plethora of books from varied genres that you may not have explored on your own.

With the pandemic restrictions eased is it great to be back with a face-to-face interaction over books?

Absolutely. Collectively engaging in creative pursuits is a wonderful way to promote psychological wellbeing especially when most of us are just emerging from lockdowns and relative isolation.

You have written two novels and have featured in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. How has living in the UAE shaped your writing and your career?

As an author I am greatly inspired by people, places and situations that intrigue me and spark my imagination. The UAE has provided me a brilliant canvas for my writing with its rich culture, heritage, and its vibrant diversity. Beneath its cloak of urbanness and modernity, I discovered a country of captivating contrasts and knew my story had found me.

This led me to put pen to paper for my debut novel If You Only Knew Me. Being featured in the Emirates LitFest is of course a dream come true for any debut author as it provides us access to one of the most widely acclaimed literary events in the region and globally to showcase our work. It was wonderful being part of an event where literary talents from all over the world, come together and collaborate so effectively. As I have called the UAE home for over twenty years now, I take great pride in, and am deeply grateful for the UAE’s role in shaping my career as an author.

What are some of your favourite books?

Palace Walk (Cairo Trilogy) by Naghuib Mahfouz, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan.

Do you feel the reading habit has been given a boost during the pandemic as many people were stuck at home?

Definitely. An escape to the world of the printed word was a great relief for many people during the pandemic. They provided us much-needed comfort and distraction amidst tumultuous and very distressing conditions.

How long have you been part of the Festival Plaza book club and what initially encouraged you to join?

I’ve just recently joined the club. As a community book club with lots of interesting events and must-read books, I look forward to attending it and connecting with more readers and authors.

If you were stranded on an island and could just have one book with you which one would it be and why?

To Kill a Mockingbird. I think I’d like to spend my days in isolation reading a deeply moving, dramatic and compassionate book. I can read and re-read it several times too!

As a writer do you have a particular spot in Dubai that you like to go to and work in?

Whenever I can, I love to find a quiet cafe on the beach, where I can sip coffee and look out at the ocean. It instantly transports me to another place!

JOIN THE CLUB!

The fourth installment of the free-to-attend the Festival Plaza, Jebel Ali book club in partnership with Booktopia will be held on Saturday, June 26, at KARE. During the morning, club members can indulge in a selection of refreshments as they share their thoughts with fellow readers on The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. Plus, those joining the club for the first time will receive a goody bag filled with a range of treats from KARE and Booktopia. Held on the last Saturday of each month from 10:30am, the club offers a selection of must-read books, appearances from acclaimed authors and guest speakers as well as a host of literary events.

For more details, visit www.dubaifestivalplaza.com/home/whats-on/book-club and www.dubaifestivalplaza.com/home/wifi/book-club-event-registration

author

Enid Grace Parker

A bibliophile and amateur poetry enthusiast, Enid grew up in Dubai in the 80s and loves to add a dash of nostalgia to her stories. She enjoys retro music, vintage Hollywood and Bollywood films and hanging around coffee shops and city bookstores hoping an idea for that once-in-a-lifetime best-selling novel will finally pop into her head.





 
 
 
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