What We Are Reading Today: ‘Uncovering Dinosaur Behavior’ by David Hone

DUBAI: For many, summer offers an opportunity to finally pick up that book that has been collecting dust on the nightstand all year. For others, it is an opportunity to branch out and expand their literary horizons.

During these quieter months, certain genres often gain in popularity as readers look for titles that match the relaxed atmosphere of the season or support their personal development goals.

Whether reading for relaxation or self-improvement, a common dilemma for summer readers is choosing between fiction and nonfiction.

According to author Philipp Mathijs, founder of executive and business coaching service Reach Outstanding, this choice is ultimately a matter of personal taste. However, he believes that “there is a trend towards balance.

“Nonfiction satisfies curiosity and learning goals and covers topics from history to personal development, while fiction provides escape from reality and relaxation through imaginative storytelling,” he told Arab News.

Fiction remains popular throughout the year. However, we often see an uptick in sales of self-help and personal development books during the summer, especially among students and first-time job seekers, says Mathijs.

“Self-help books offer readers practical guidance, motivation and strategies for personal and professional growth,” he said. Such books cover a wide range of topics, from career advancement and productivity to mindfulness and relationships.

One example is Mathijs’s own latest book, How Not to Be Lonely at the Top, which guides readers through the unique challenges of leadership at higher levels.

“Whether you are a CEO, a manager or a rising star in your organization, the book provides the tools and knowledge you need to succeed in today’s competitive business environment,” he said.

Philippe Mathijs, founder of the executive and business coaching service Reach Outstanding. (Attached)

Nasser Saleh, author of Under the Cover, admits that choosing between fiction and non-fiction is a common problem for avid readers, but notes that even works of fiction can open avenues of self-discovery.

“Currently, fiction is a more popular option, appealing to those who enjoy escapism and compelling storytelling,” he told Arab News.

“These readers are drawn to stories that take them to different worlds and give them a break from everyday life.

“Under the Cover” is a collection of short stories that explore the human experience. Saleh describes these narratives as anecdotes that “take readers on a journey into the depths of the human mind, where the essence of their real lives remains hidden beneath the surface.”

Despite the appeal of fiction, Saleh admits that many readers prefer non-fiction – particularly genres such as self-improvement, history and biographies. He attributes the growing popularity of memoirs and autobiographies to several factors.

“Authenticity and inspiration” is one reason, says Saleh, as readers are often captivated by real-life stories and personal journeys that provide valuable insights and motivation.

Shatha Al-Mutawa, founder and director of the Kutubna Cultural Center in Dubai, supports this perspective, attributing the demand for the genre to people’s innate curiosity to learn more about the lives of notable individuals, regardless of time or place.

“We want to find the answers to the questions in our own lives in the strength and wisdom of others, and we want to see how people deal with the challenges we face,” she told Arab News.

“It’s an exciting time as we see more women speaking openly and frankly about different aspects of their lives.”

Indeed, at a time of increasing openness in the region, more Khaleeji women are now sharing intimate details of their life experiences through writing, she said.

For example, Palestinian-Kuwaiti author Shahd Al-Shammari shares excerpts from her diaries in her memoir “Head above water,” a book that addresses the intersection of gender, disability, and ethnicity.

This is an example of “cultural insight” – another factor behind the growing demand for memoirs and autobiographies in the Arab world, says Saleh.

“The memoir offers insight into different cultures and experiences and deepens the reader’s understanding of the Arab world,” he said.

Similarly, global influences have fueled interest in memoirs and autobiographies, as the success of international bestsellers encourages readers to seek similar narratives in their own cultural context, Saleh said.

“Despite the fact that there are fewer authors from the Arab region, notable works such as ‘I was born there, I was born here’ by Mourid Barghouti and ‘Baghdad burning: Girl blog from Iraq’ by Riverband have attracted attention,” he said .

In addition, Saleh said realistic and historical novels are another genre that is seeing increasing popularity in the Arabic language book landscape.

It predicts that titles such as “Gambling in Honor of Lady Mitzy” by Ahmed Al-Morsi, which was shortlisted last month for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction – also known as the “Arabic Booker” – will be popular reading this summer .

“The book sheds light on the harsh realities of the early 20th century, which were very similar to the harsh realities we experience today,” he said.

Another favorite is “The Mask of the Color of the Sky” by Basim Khandaqji, which won the 2024 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

“The mask in the title of the book refers to the blue ID card of an Israeli found by an archaeologist living in a refugee camp in Ramallah in the pocket of an old coat,” Saleh said.

In the midst of the war in Gaza, Al-Mutawa of the Kutubna Cultural Center believes many readers will gravitate to books by Palestinian authors this summer.

“Although it is difficult to export books from Palestine, authors and publishers succeed in bringing us new Palestinian literature,” she told Arab News.

She mentioned books such as “Alkabsula” by Kamil Abu Hneish, which looks at the ways in which Palestinian political prisoners share their writings with the world.

Another title that he believes will generate a lot of interest among readers around the world, especially when translated into English, is “Kitaba khalf alkhutut,” written by several authors from Gaza about their experiences of the ongoing war.

Similarly, Adani Shibli’s novel A Small Detail, which recounts the horrific events of the 1948 Nakba – or catastrophe – in Palestine, and Rashid Khalidi’s classic The Hundred Years’ War in Palestine will fly off the shelves this summer as more and more people look to learned the history of Palestine, says Al-Mutawa.

“I strongly disagree with the idea that there is a lack of authors from the Arab region,” she said, stressing that the real lack lies in limited media attention and public recognition of the contributions of writers in the region.

Al-Mutawa, on the other hand, suggests that readers looking for an escape into the realm of fiction this summer should explore books like The Messy Home by Kuwaiti author Mai Al-Nakib.

Al-Mutawa highlights the distinctive portrayal of Khaleeji women in the book, especially in the portrayal of the relationship between the Gulf people and the people of India.

Another book to look out for is the sequel to her novel Banat Al-Riyad (The Girls of Riyadh) by Saudi writer Raja Al-Sanaa, Al-Mutawa says.

Al-Sanae recently discussed her life and writing journey on the “Imshi maa” podcast and hinted at a sequel to the novel, which has previously attracted attention in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

“Let’s not forget poetry, which combines fiction and non-fiction,” Al-Mutawa told Arab News.

As an avid reader, she strongly recommends revisiting Dunya Mikhail’s The War works hard, while eagerly awaiting the release of the author’s latest collection, Tablets: Secrets of the clay, which will be released in September.

While some readers may choose to browse bookstore shelves for summer reading, others may prefer the convenience of online shopping and e-books.

Ultimately, the different formats in which books are available cater to different wants and needs, Al-Mutawa said.

For example, audiobooks are ideal for individuals with long commutes, while lightweight e-books are convenient on the go.

For Al-Mutawa and other book enthusiasts, however, holding a physical edition in hand and turning the pages provides a sensory satisfaction that e-books simply cannot match.

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