Lebanon reads its way through quarantine

With the overabundance of isolation that we’re currently subjected to, reading has become a privilege that is encouraged and inevitably fought for.
by Salma Yassine

28 March 2020 | 14:19

Source: by Annahar

  • by Salma Yassine
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 28 March 2020 | 14:19

“Abandoned Ink” taken by Malak Ammar in Hamra, Beirut. (HO).

BEIRUT: A plethora of the Lebanese have taken reading as a safe harbor and a mindful escape, thus reviving it in times of quarantine.

The COVID-19 pandemic invaded the globe, coercing people into the confinement of their own homes. People in quarantine have found solace in nurturing hobbies, shifting to novel lifestyles, and accommodating to the radical aspects of the online realm. Amidst the chaos of adapting to the rigidity of virtual productivity and the lack of physical human interaction, a wide range of quarantined individuals rekindled their relationship with the art of reading in hopes of defeating isolation and lonesomeness.

A colossal fraction of the Lebanese belong to this sample, for they have found refuge within the written word. The latter is quite astonishing, since it transgresses the pre-existing notion that people of the Levant are not ardent readers, and this is based on grounded reasons.

“Lebanese people aren’t avid readers because of the stress they are subjected to every single day. We have to think about the country’s situation, our financial instability, meager healthcare sector, the neglected senior citizens and oppressed migrant workers, and simply, our basic human rights to the point that enjoying a book has become a guilty pleasure,” Serena Younes, an avid reader, noted for Annahar. “I asked a member of my family, who was a devoted reader, why they stopped and they told me that they felt they can be doing something productive instead of enjoying a book.”

Marianne Azar who is an MSc in Psychology of Language student at The University of Edinburgh stated that another reason behind the declination in reading Arabic books in particular is that they do not resemble our reality.

“If there were books in Lebanese Arabic, I'm sure they would attract more readership. At this moment, reading in Modern Standard Arabic is a bit challenging because it is neither intuitive nor familiar and it fails more often than spoken languages at striking a recollection of real life events, which would have succeeded if written in the colloquial language," she said.

She elaborated further that reading might be misunderstood as choosing to withdraw yourself from socializing, because there isn’t much respect and tolerance for alone time, the ideal time for reading, in our society. Yet, with the overabundance of isolation that we’re currently subjected to, reading has become a privilege that is encouraged and inevitably fought for.

Dana Hodeib Eido, an instructor of English Language and Literature at the Lebanese American University, believes that the art of reading has been lost because the former is perceived as a burdening academic duty. This idea is enforced in some schools and reinforced in some homes. She, however, has adorned her household with a different aura.

“I have read to my kids every night since they were almost two. Prior to that, I had introduced them to interactive picture books and they used to love them. Growing up to reading happening at home, they now perceive books as fun and interesting, an activity that is done with smiles," she said. "In my family, the tooth fairy brings books and a good deed is rewarded with a nice story time. And recently, quarantine granted us an additional space to devour more books.”

As a brave initiative, Halabi Bookshop was one of the pioneering bookstores that offered delivery services in a sanitary manner all across Lebanon since the beginning of the pandemic. However, due to the aggravation of the situation, delivery services in Lebanon were banned except for food products.

“It is very assuring that people are still reading in uncertain times. People with limited income are still willing to pay for books, which reflects eagerness for a reading culture being embraced; reading has become a necessity that people are in need of and asking for. Thus, I was still opening the bookshop for an hour or two, despite the haunting threat of the virus, to cater to these requests. This sign of yearning for books defies the misconception that has stained the Lebanese when it comes to reading,” Lana Halabi, the co-owner of Halabi Bookshop, noted for Annahar.

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