Mind, heart, soul

By Sameen Amer
Fri, 02, 24

Reading may famously be a dying habit but the crowd at the Lahore International Book Fair (LIBF) seemed to be on a collective mission to prove otherwise....

Mind, heart, soul


Reading may famously be a dying habit but the crowd at the Lahore International Book Fair (LIBF) seemed to be on a collective mission to prove otherwise. Sure the digital age may have drastically changed how we consume everything from news to literature, but based on the turnout at the 2024 LIBF, there is clearly no shortage of people who still love books.

Mind, heart, soul

The 37th edition of the yearly exhibition took place at the Expo Centre in Lahore in the first week of February, and while the weather may have been cold and the day overcast, there was still plenty of hustle and bustle at the arena on the cloudy Sunday afternoon when I visited the event.

Not only was the book fair a chance for bookworms to find just the volume they were looking for and booksellers to reach their customers, but the five-day event gave bibliophiles the opportunity to cherish seeing like-minded people turn up in droves and show their support for printed works. 

Books galore

Muhammad Ali Siddiqui, Old BooksCollection
Muhammad Ali Siddiqui, Old Books

The massive hall was filled with stalls of the various booksellers, offering everything from English content to Urdu literature. Whether you enjoy fantasy, sci-fi, romance, memoirs, real-life adventures, religious books, or anything in between or beyond, you were very likely to find something of interest among the thousands and thousands of volumes on display.

Much of the exhibit featured new books, some imported, many expensive enough to make you wish you’d win the lottery already and remind you that life is indeed unfair.

A handful of stalls focused on the resale of old book. Among them was Old Books Collection from Karachi. Muhammad Ali Siddiqui, from the aforementioned retailer, seemed pleased with the outcome of the event. “We have a stall at the book fair every year,” he said. “This is our fifth book fair, and the result is good, MashaAllah.” The event, he explained, helped his business reach new readers and customers, and gave him the chance to meet people.

Pre-loved books may not catch everyone’s fancy, but they can be a blessing for those on a budget. Muhammad Abid Siddiqui from Siddiqui Book Centre, another old books business, pointed out their value. “We find and keep second-hand books,” he said. “The price of new books has increased because of the hike in the price of paper, and even slim volumes can cost as much as two to three thousand, so we promote second-hand books.”

Bookworms aplenty

Muhammad Abid Siddiqui, Siddiqui Book Centre
Muhammad Abid Siddiqui, Siddiqui Book Centre

Among the sellers of the pricy new volumes was Liberty Books from Karachi, represented at the LIBF by Rizwan Ahmad, who was more than pleased with the number of people who had turned up at the event. “It’s going really well; the response has been even better than we expected,” Rizwan enthused. He explained that Liberty Books had chosen to step away from the book fair for half a decade because of rampant piracy, and had only just made their return to the event. “We have returned after six years,” he said, “and we re-entered the book fair with limited stock. We left this because of piracy. Now Insha’Allah next years we’ll also come achay taraikay se because MashaAllah the response is very good. It’s going well.”

And while the abovementioned Siddiqui Book Centre’s Abid Siddiqui was, likewise, satisfied with the overall turnout and sees this yearly gathering as a way to help the young generation develop an interest in reading, he did have a few suggestions on how it could be even better. “Our experience here is good, but it is still not at the level that it should be,” he explained. “The reason for this is that a lot of people don’t even know about this [event], and if it was covered by the media and news of the book fair had been spread in Lahore, then even more people would have found out about it.” 

Paper power

There is something so heartening about gatherings like the LIBF and how they highlight the value of books. Muhammad Hamza Gaziani, the proprietor of The Book Kingdom, emphasised just how vital this medium is. “I feel like books are very important for everyone as they increase your imagination, your knowledge, your speaking skills – [they have an impact on] each and every thing.

The Book Kingdom
The Book Kingdom

“Book fairs,” he continued, “are very important so that the people who don’t really know about books can get introduced to them and [can have access to] especially those books which aren’t available online or in physical stores. Some are like mangas – Naruto, comics; these are very rare, and we are the ones who are specially keeping them.”

Azhar, a longtime employee of Readings, also expressed just how important books are for society. “Books are essential for human transformation,” he said. “If I talk about myself, I have been working for Readings for about 16 to 17 years and I feel like I have changed from the person I was back then. I have learned a lot from books. Like everything has an aura, books have their own aura. When a book is in our hands, we don’t get that much time to read but even reading the summaries, even knowing about books briefly, even that brings about a lot of changes in us. If I have changed so much in the company of books, then I feel if everyone stays attached to books, it will not only change them individually, but since individuals come together to develop society, the whole society will change and there will be a positive impact. The nation will develop and perform better.”

Azhar, Readings
Azhar, Readings

Happy with his experience at the LIBF, Azhar was excited to see people showing their love for books. “You can see people are participating in a good way,” he noted. “The impression we were getting that reading habits are declining and people are not drawn towards reading, that impression is being revoked here.

There are people here in significant numbers, and from a business perspective, people buy books, that’s how we do business. We import a lot of books. And this is just the Lahore edition. If this is the situation in one city, then overall the situation is not bad, I feel.

“This is one event,” he continued. “There should be more events like this in a year so that more people are attached and there is even more awareness. I am not mayoos with respect to books.”

It’s such a good thing that the LIBF has given us optimism when it comes to reading, for what better way is there to nourish the mind, heart, and soul than a good book?