Emirates Lit Fest: 'Live to read, don't read to live'


Emirates Lit Fest: Live to read, dont read to live
Isobel Abulhoul OBE

Dubai - Emirates lit fest director Isobel Abulhoul speaks on importance of reading.


Kelly Clarke

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Published: Wed 2 Mar 2016, 5:33 PM

As day one of the 12-day Emirates Airline Festival of Literature kicked off in Dubai on Tuesday, its key message was clear: don't let reading become the Brussels sprout of the literary world.
In an interview with Khaleej Times from the Dubai International Writers Centre, Festival Director Isobel Abulhoul said reading should be "a love not a chore".
"I have nothing against Brussels sprouts but many people tend to eat them because they are good for you, not because they like them. Reading shouldn't be like this."
With a vision to get as many people in the UAE "reading for pleasure", the Festival is the first event in the region that ties in with the UAE's 'Year of Reading' initiative, which was declared by the President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, back in December.
Speaking on the importance of reading, Abulhoul said statistics actually show that an individual will do better in life if reading becomes regular practice.
Several studies have shown a heightened connectivity in certain areas of the brain after reading, so the need to make it a habit is now.
"If people enjoy reading, they will read regularly. My message to parents is 'make time to read to your children on a daily basis'. Reading matters."
She said people acquire the skill of language through listening to the spoken word, and similarly, if a child or baby is read to on a daily basis, they will soon understand the sounds they are hearing.
Failing to learn how to read has emerged as a critical problem globally, and ending illiteracy is one of the Millennium Development Goals.
Sluggish reading rate in Arabs
Alarmingly, statistics issued by the Arab Thought Foundation in 2015 highlighted just how severe the problem in this part of the world is.
The study showed the average annual reading rate for an Arab child is six minutes compared to 12,000 minutes for children in the West.
Commenting on this, Abulhoul said audience participation in the first few years of the festival demonstrated this lack of interest in reading from Arab nationalities.
"In the first three years of launching we saw more expatriate residents attending than local residents. I think that was because no one really understood what is was about."
But in the last four years, that has changed dramatically, she said.
"People get what the festival is about now. What is even more exciting is the fact that non-Arab speakers are now attending Arabic sessions because the caliber of writers, speakers, filmmakers, and poets emerging from this region is so strong."
And she said the 1,200 volunteers representing 80 nationalities now working for the festival is a "reflection of the diverse audience" too.
A total of 160 authors from 35 countries will be holding more than 300 sessions and workshops at this year's event which will conclude on March 12. Even if books aren't your thing, Abulhoul said residents in the UAE should come along, and give the Festival a try.
"It often triggers a hidden passion many didn't know they had."

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