“All these are readers, and their gestures, their craft, the pleasure, the responsibility and the power they derive from reading, are common with mine. I am not alone.” – Alberto Manguel
I can no longer call them by their names or official titles; the barriers between us are lifted. They are not just friends, they are partners in the intimate act of reading.
I happened upon a Facebook page called Nucleus, managed by a group of young people. Nucleus is a book club: a group of readers meet every Saturday to discuss books and later share the results of the discussion and photos on Facebook. As I’m a fan of May Ziade and the al-Akkad literary salon, I joined the club. Indeed, the club is similar to traditional literary salons but with a modern style full of desire for change, the desire that overcame us after the revolutions.
“We are like a family in the club. Since I joined, I have started reading more books and expanded my knowledge,” says Omaima Abu Rabia. She adds that interactive reading strategies, debates and dialogue between members allow people to discover different points of view. Reading clubs also help to change the frustrating statistics which reveal that Arabs spend less time reading in comparison to other nations.
These clubs use the Internet to foster young people’s reading habits. Huda Youssef says: “I have two experiences with online reading clubs, one with Nucleus and the second with the University of Berkeley. The clubs have different strategies, but I enjoyed both of them. I would like to go in person, but online reading clubs are also important as they cover a wide range of readers from different cultural backgrounds.”
Nucleus is based in the capital, Tripoli, yet I became an active member – a member of the family – from my city, Benghazi. Unfortunately, my participation has always been incomplete as I can’t be physically there to feel the pulse of their thoughts, witness the birth of their ideas and see their visual connection. I want to be sharing this astonishing intimate act of reading with other members, therefore I have always dreamed of establishing a club or creating a place where I can live my dream.
Tanarot reading club was this dream coming true.
“Books are man’s best friend. They have great influence on those who love them; this is why I supported the founding of Tanarot.” Writer and critic Mohammed al-Tarhuni, head of the Tanarot Assembly, talks about why he encouraged a reading club in Tanarot. He says Tanarot offers a space to search for education in books. Education, in turn, will reveal the truth.
The members of Tanarot book club meet twice a month, on Wednesdays. They discuss a book which has been chosen by member vote, and then continue according to an annual reading plan. They are now reading their tenth book.
“Since I am in charge of administrating the sessions, I spend most of the time before the meeting gathering information and pictures about the author and the book which we will discuss. My goal is to enrich the debate and to start a rich discussion to exchange points of view,” says al-Tahruni.
Reading has always been for me an activity for pleasure, an intimate relationship that I don’t share with anyone. However, thanks to book clubs, reading has become a constructive social relationship for me.
In this time of war in which we live, such clubs and activities have become imperative – a national duty. Author Dr Mohammed al-Mufti shares my view; he says reading is a source of knowledge and pleasure and part of the culture of the modern era, since the invention of printing five centuries ago. The habit of reading books is usually acquired early, and advanced societies work to foster it among children.
Tanarot was founded in November 2015, taking its name in honour of the Tanarot Valley near the village of Daraj. The word is of Amazigh origin. The club has several branches, including branches that focus on anthropology, cinema, calligraphy, painting, poetry and reading. The book club has organised many events, notably the establishment of a reading bridge on a main Benghazi road in order to encourage people to read in public places.