Coronavirus Pandemic

How Covid-19 made UAE read, read, and read

Nandini Sircar/Dubai
Filed on November 7, 2020

Parents have also been putting more emphasis on reading as they try to cut down their children’s screen time.

Changes in habits have emerged since Covid-19 restricted movement and people started spending more time at home. Reading, in particular, has now been commanding attention from the UAE’s residents.

Experts say there has been a visible shift in reading trends, with the focus moving to titles related to lifestyle and entrepreneurship.

“I definitely think being at home has led to more readers,” says Ipshita Sharma, international sales manager for IPS ME and literary scout for Literary Sapiens.

A lot of parents have also been putting more emphasis on reading as they try to cut down their children’s screen time, she added.

“The main areas of interest seem to be lighter fiction, creativity-related lifestyle books, cookery and gardening titles. There is also a bend towards books about entrepreneurship and investment guides,” Sharma said.

While publishers and bookshop owners have observed a dip in academic sales, other genres are witnessing a resurgence.

Steve Jones, store manager and marketing and merchandise manager for Kinokuniya Dubai, says: “The vibe has certainly changed. I think people who were previously visiting friends or going out for dinner are staying home. Netflix has its limitations, so people are looking for old and new forms of entertainment. Books have a marvelous way of educating and entertaining.”

At their bookshop, Jones noted an upturn in the purchase of books that are based on craft, arts, and cooking.

“While literature, and comics are certainly coming back — anything happy is on trend. Of course, all children’s books are doing well, with parents focusing on educational skills and entertainment,” he said.

Challenge for the industry

Another bookshop owner, however, shared a different perspective, saying the pandemic had also given rise to some challenges for the industry.

Ruth Kiernan, co-founder of Bookworm, which is known for its collection of children’s books, said: “Covid-19 has led to a significant financial strain on many families. So, people are looking for bargains. Therefore, the surge in the reading trend is not directly reflected in our sales.

“However, schools in the UAE and the government here are very passionate about inculcating reading habits in children right from the early years and that has been visible across various initiatives throughout the year.”


Jhanvi Goyal: Grade 4 student, 150 books

At home, she has a shelf of over 1,000 books. She has also credited for authoring a book, titled The Adventures at Great Willow Academy.

“I developed a knack for reading at the age of four. I read realistic fiction and fantasy stories and I read daily for two hours. My reading proved to be my inspiration for writing. I sometimes make a mind map of all the characters that I read and that’s what I have penned down in my book.”

Zeyad Mohamed Abdelhady Zeid: Grade 7 student, 150+ books

The Egyptian student has been awarded for having read the highest number of books in one school year. He has been named ‘Triple Platinum Reader’.

“Books let you travel anywhere around the world and across time zones. I read books after I wake up, before meals, after meals and before sleeping. As per my digital reading log in school, I read 150 books during the curfew, but frankly I’ve read more than this. For the whole school year, I’ve read 600 books.”

Bokamoso Mogole: Grade 4 student, 96 books

On average, she finishes three books per week and spends at least two hours in her daily reading routine. The South African national loves informational books to expand her knowledge and understanding.

“Staying home came with a lot of loneliness, and reading different books brought positive vibes. I have read books, ranging from non-fiction to high-fantasy novels that talk about different topics and ideas that challenged my thinking. My parents are my inspiration as their commitment and their love for reading have pushed me to follow in their footsteps.”

We’re happy SIBF is back despite pandemic: Residents

Breaking the monotony in the new normal, this year’s Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) is back. And the country’s bibliophiles booked their visit right away, raring to comb through row upon row of books from around the world. Turnout on the opening day last Wednesday had exceeded expectations, organisers said.

A regular visitor of the SIBF, Lebanese expat Natalie Habib was amazed at how organised the SIBF is and how Covid-19 safety protocols are implemented to the letter.

“It’s remarkable to see how this has been accomplished successfully. The event is very informative. There are different publishers this year,” Habib said.

“I love coming here as it’s a once-a-year opportunity where you can find books from all over the world and the prices are amazing. It’s much cheaper than what you would get at the bookstores. I usually come here for different kinds of books, like art books, historical painting books and some children’s books for my nephew.”

Sharjah resident Majd Al Khatib wouldn’t want to miss what she described as “the most important event in the UAE’s literary calendar”.

“I am not apprehensive about Covid-19. I took all the precautions like sanitising my hands and wearing masks while at the fair. The book pavilions are as impressive as ever,” Al Khatib said.

“I bought a few children’s activity books for my son and daughter and a religious book for my mother. The volume of titles is very impressive as usual. Cultural events are happening online this year, so I intend tuning into those as well.”

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