Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Riyadh Writes the Book of its Future

Riyadh Writes the Book of its Future

Monday, 10 October, 2022 - 06:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The young man’s long browsing of the bookshelves reminded me of my feelings whenever I go to the library. How hard it is to choose when you are confronted by rows and rows of books that have stood the test of time.

Opting for one book leads to a sense of guilt for having chosen it over the author of the book that stood next to it. The best way out of this situation is the excuse that you don’t have enough time to read so many books.

What a sight it is to see so many young men and women browsing books and leafing through their pages, as if they are searching for a window, lamp or key to the world.

The string of light that connects the reader to the author confuses me. The author sometimes feels as if he had plunged into a tunnel with no way out. He feels surrounded in the darkness, with loneliness his only companion. He feels concerned, hesitant and fearful of isolation. Only the eager reader can save the author from the terrible feeling of being forgotten.

I don’t know what the reader looks for from his favorite author. Are they looking for someone to wage a war for him? Are they seeking someone to express their thoughts? Or are they looking for something that is so far removed from them? Are they looking for someone who would entertain and distract them from their daily routine?

Are they seeking someone who can incite them to ask the heavy questions? Painful and worrying questions that confront the reader with their life and demand that they search for the meaning of themself and the world.

The Riyadh International Book Fair attracted readers of all ages. I was struck by the high number of women. We should stop considering this a surprise or achievement. Such scenes are common in the new Saudi Arabia.

The woman is a main partner in dealing with the burdens of the present and a main partner in the battle for the future. She no longer needs anyone to hold her hand and guide her in how to perform her role. She has become confident in her rights and ability to assume responsibility and seize opportunities.

Tens of thousands of people flocked to the book fair. Despite the crowd, the event ran smoothly. It was no easy feat to organize the fair. Some 1,200 publishing houses from 32 countries took part. These are significant figures that demonstrate that books still grab the interest of readers and haven’t been abandoned.

Just a few years ago, we used to hear about how libraries would soon become no more. That these precious shelves would become part of days gone by. It was assumed that technology would reshape libraries and reading platforms and material.

The truth is that experience has shown that technology is no threat to books or authors, but it is an opportunity for them. It helped readers access authors and their books. Technology did not kill authors or books. Rather it gave authors an opportunity to reach new readers across the globe when traditional means couldn’t.

Technology undercut the strict censors, forcing them into retirement, and allowed the author to reach places that were previously prohibited.

It was a beautiful scene. This reader was searching for a book on humanities, another was searching for a poetry collection. Another was searching for a novel. Another for a book on the latest technological innovations. One was browsing for a cookbook. One young reader wanted to put to the test the books that his parents claimed were significant and indispensable.

Saudi Arabia has for years been witnessing unprecedented activity. It is the renaissance launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It is his firm decision to join the workshop of progress and development that is shaping the world.

There can be no sitting idly by as the world changes. Waiting is not the best option. There is no time to waste. The solution lies in taking the plunge and wielding the weapons of the present and meeting its new faces and latest innovations.

The renaissance not only means joining the technological revolution, but also belonging to this moment in time in the world and taking part in shaping the next one. One must take on the economic, social, education, health and environmental aspects of the renaissance. The most important factor is stimulating innovation, providing opportunities and opening new horizons.

In such a renaissance, it is only natural for culture to play a pioneering role. It is only natural for arts to occupy their unique position since the purpose of every renaissance is the improvement of people’s lives.

In Riyadh, the visitor does not sense the worries that are plaguing capitals across the globe. The Saudi youth’s playing a decisive role in the building the new renaissance has pumped hope in society. The visitor never senses despair that is voiced by youths in other capitals where they believe that their future lies in abandoning their own countries.

The Saudi youth confidently declare that the future is better, not just because they share great dreams, but because the numbers underscore their ability to achieve them. The Saudi youth live in the present that is open to the future. Learning. Training. Innovation. Competing. Books. Artworks. Artificial Intelligence. New cities.

Reading books is not like paying a visit to the past. It is a visit to the future. The accumulation of books enriches and doubles the appetites. How beautiful it is for the reader to become engrossed in a book and its author. To question the author through notes on the margins of the pages of these books.

Riyadh has become the capital of major and endless dates. There is always a new date to save on the calendar. It is the workshop of the future that does not rest. The book fair showed that Riyadh was writing the book of its own future.

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