Ever since I have learned to read I’ve always loved reading and feel totally empty handed if I don’t bring a book with me wherever I go, so the fact that I rarely saw Algerians reading a book in public, or even a book shelf in an Algerian home, is something that was really sad to me. I got the impression that Algerians just weren’t interested in reading as a pastime. The libraries here are few and far between and, according to those who have been in one, contain only old tomes or academic works. When we lived in England I tried to find good Arabic books for my children to get their teeth into in order to improve their Arabic, but found the only ones available too much like school books – they rarely had a good, gripping story, and had such flowery language, long beloved of Arabic authors, that the children very soon lost interest. This was in such sharp contrast to our love of the local library where we always borrowed the maximum number of books on our cards... 14 each! I had high expectations of finding better ones once we moved here, but apart from the few children’s stories translated from the English into Arabic, there was nothing else, with the vast majority of books for children being in French.
Every year they have a Book Fair, here in Algiers that goes on for 10 days, where they have representatives of publishing houses from Algeria, Europe and the Arab world selling books on almost every subject imaginable. And every year it’s absolutely packed from morning to evening. There are books for everyone: Islamic books including reference books, French books on every subject under the sun and some English books, mostly for those learning English as a second language. There are books for old and young, men and women, and most of the units are thronged with people.
This year there were French books on cookery, baking, sewing, crafting, clothes design, health issues to name just a few. There were English books from a Lebanese publisher on architecture and interior design. There were whole units devoted to all aspects of IT, again in French. A lot of publishers from the Arab world were selling Arabic books on poetry, Islamic debates, Arab personalities and of course Islamic reference works and more modern Islamic works.
I have been going to the fair ever since we moved here and notice that there are far more English study aids for sale. Oxford and Pearson were two of the English Publishers represented and apart from Teacher and Student books and dictionaries, they also had condensed versions of the Classic’s, Shakespeare’s plays and, much to my amusement, more modern works like The Pelican Brief and The Firm. Some of these were sold with a CD attached with the book in oral form so that the reader could listen as they read, and I believe they also had full versions of some of the books. It was interesting to see how popular these publishers were amongst young people especially.
The traffic caused by the fair was so bad, triggered by the number queuing to get into the car-park, that we finally parked our car on the road and walked the last part of the way. We drove home through the old streets of Le Pin Maritime.
In the past 10 years, I have seen more and more homes with a book shelf or shelves, more books being bought for children and more people reading in public. Every time I go to the fair I am so full of hope for Algeria, because a country whose inhabitants are this interested in improving, educating and informing themselves, is one that will thrive inshallah.