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Five tips for making the most of a book fair
Just like the Sharjah International Book Fair, approximately 10 other book fairs are held in the GCC countries. With millions of titles on display annually at Arab book fairs, choosing and buying the right books is not necessarily an easy task for excited readers and book collectors.
Here are five easy and effective tips to aid every connoisseur and enthusiast chalk up a solid strategy in making the most of book fairs.
Tip #1: Prepare a list of the books that you want, your favourite authors, and publishing houses you wish to visit
Among the most known tips about visiting book exhibitions, the one that focusses on preparing a list of books that one wants to acquire, usually takes precedence. What gives this tip an edge is that while you are preparing your booklist, you should simultaneously work on two more narrowing down your favourite authors as well as publishers. This is a great way of catching hold of brand new publications, which publishers wait up until these big book fairs to release.
Preparing this list will take care of much of the extempore mental organisation you will have to put yourself through without a list, and more importantly, will save you an incredible amount of time, dismissing that sinister possibility of you missing out on that one book by your favourite author you were eagerly waiting to buy, and then not remembering to acquire it. There are five main sources to help you prepare the list:
- Through your previous readings. The footnotes of every book refer you to some other books whose titles may attract you.
- Second: Your favourite genre of books. If you are interested in Arab through, you need to prepare a list of publishing houses in this domain. But if you are interested in Emirati and GCC’s fiction writers, you need to specify publishing houses dedicated to publishing novels of GCC authors.
- Through websites that provide information about books, carry reviews and ratings, such as Goodreads (www.goodreads.com), Amazon (www.amazon.com), Jamlon (www.jamlon.com), or Neelwafurat (www.neelwafurat.com), etc. By visiting these sites regularly, you will be more proficient in preparing your desired list.
- Friends or experts who are interested in the fields of knowledge that you are interested in. You can benefit from discussions with them about what they read and are interested in.
- You can benefit from the lists of books posted by others who are interested in literature and culture. This is an easy way that saves your time and effort.
Tip #2: Exercise your freedom to go beyond this list
You may find the book that you want to buy is not suitable for you, and does not live up to your expectation, and hence acquiring it will not be good for you. The list is important as mentioned earlier, but it does not mean that you have to buy the books on the list only. Book fairs are not just to buy the predefined books, but a chance to get a close view of the latest in the publishing market, and also an opportunity to identify the books, authors or publishers you never knew before.
Here are five quick tips that help you identify the proper book for you in just a few minutes:
- Read the front and back cover of the book.
- Have a bird’s eye view of chapter titles listed on the book index and the number of pages dedicated to each. This will help you know what the author focuses on in this book.
- A quick read of the book’s introduction and conclusion, if possible.
- If from the non-fiction or academic genres, view the list of sources to learn about the writer’s research on the topic of the book.
- Choose a topic of your interest from the chapter titles and read some of its paragraphs quickly to know the writer’s style and ideas raised in it. This will help you decide whether or not to buy it.
Tip #3: Unless you have all the books you desire, avoid buying books you may not pick up until the next book fair
If you visit only one book fair annually, do not buy any book that you will not read in the coming months, with the exception of books that are not readily available or reference books. Once you get the book, you are putting yourself under pressure to finish reading it as quickly as possible, and this might not be the right time for you.
Tip #4: Take some time to traverse the halls of the book fair all by yourself
This tip may not apply to everyone, but works wonders for me. Every year I visit book fairs along with a group of friends, and we split up at the entrance to go around the exhibits. This is because we all know that if we walk together, we will get involved in conversations about books and authors and all else, which eats into the time and focus you can otherwise use visiting the fair’s halls. Also, in between exhibition halls, you can save a lot of time walking alone. When not distracted by others, you are able to view the books carefully and have enough time to make an informed purchasing decision. When all by yourself, the chances of striking a conversation with publishers and engaging in discussions to learn about the latest books and the bestsellers are considerably higher.
Tip #5: Share your joy of reading at home
You may be a young person who acquires books to update your personal library, or a seasoned collector of books. Irrespective, it is important to set up a home library accessible to all family members – one that has books representing everyone’s choices and interests. If one of your family members is interested in certain topics, you need to buy some books for him/her. If you are an Emirati and have children or young siblings, there are many prolific Arab publishers dedicated to children’s literature, who exhibit at SIBF and other book fairs in regionally and even internationally. Some of these publishing houses have flourished in recent years, such as Emirati publisher, Kalimat Group. Although it is relatively new compared to the publishers who have a longer history in the market, it is the first UAE publishing house dedicated to publishing high quality Arabic children’s books. With a portfolio of internationally acclaimed authors and illustrators, Kalimat has produced more than 175 books distinguished by innovative Arabic content and attractive illustrations.
These humble tips stem from what I have gathered during my numerous visits to book fairs in the UAE and abroad. My latest blog on YouTube titled ‘River of Books’, summarises my visit to the Sharjah International Book Fair 2016, in which I have shared some useful on-the-go tips about visiting book fairs, covered some exceptional publishing houses that participated at the Fair, in addition to some insightful interviews with friends.