A severe lack of parking space amidst construction work going on near its venue kept visitor turnout at the fair low this year.
Then, the books generally being high-priced didn’t help the fair become a success. “Overall, it was a flop show. There was nothing new about it. It was like every year,” said a critic, requesting anonymity.
Celebrated Qatari author and former editor-in-chief of Al Sharq, Abdul Aziz Al Mahmoud, was more eloquent in his criticism of the event and said the fair has just become an annual ritual.
“It’s more of an annual tradition now than anything else. There are the same publishers and almost the same books. The fair is repetitive,” he said in remarks to this newspaper.
According to another visitor who didn’t want his name in print, the event is chaotic as in the absence of sections dedicated to subjects, looking for books at the venue can be time-consuming and tiring.
“Usually, every fair of this kind has sections dedicated to books subject-wise. If I am looking for history books, I should go to that section, for example. But there was no such thing at this fair,” said the visitor.
About book prices, some enthusiasts said they were on the higher side.
According to Al Mahmoud, though, the prices being high or low, is not the issue. “The issue is there must be a printed and approved price list, but it wasn’t there.
“So people didn’t know whether to buy the books at the fair or from the market where it could be cheaper.”
The other problem was that nobody knew about this year’s new titles and whether there were some best sellers or not, he said.
Yet another critic said the fair was barren and people were left on their own. “There was no one to guide us.”
A Qatari woman, talking of the event on a local social networking site, said she visited the fair in the past but this year she didn’t because there is no one at the fair to guide as to what books to pick for reading.
A Qatari man, commenting on the same site, said he bought several books last year but couldn’t read even one of them.
Al Mahmoud said that there is no official survey on the reading habits of fellow Qataris. “But the current trend is that those Qataris who have exposure to international schools are developing the habit of book reading”.
These schools make you read three books on average a week and you must make their summary as part of curriculum, he said. “Our schools don’t encourage book reading.”
Another critic said that he found it surprising that the book fair caters only to Arabic-speaking population and leaves out the others who are quite sizeable in number.
“Only 30 percent of our population is Arabic-speaking,” said Al Mahmoud. “Why are Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis and others left out?”
He said the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage does not provide an assessment of the performance of the fair at its conclusion. “There should be an online assessment system where people should be able to give feedback for improvement,” he said.
According to him, the difference between Arab publishers and western publishing houses is that while the latter literally hunt for authors, the former wait for writers to approach them.