Ignorant authors and criticism


THE Riyadh Book Fair, which took place from March 14-24, is a cultural carnival and a continuation of many other book and cultural activities in the Kingdom and in the region. I have visited many book fairs, in Saudi Arabia and in the region, and it was a welcome sight to see people, especially youth who are addicted to electronic gadgets, browsing through the tens of thousands of book titles and touching a book instead of an iPhone or an iPad in this book fair. This trend among the youth, I hope, will grow and that the book will once again become an integral part of the youth’s free time and thus fix and enlighten them of what electronic gadgets are destroying.

Incidents that accompany book fair gatherings did happen in the past. We used to see conservatives complaining about some book titles and book contents and raising this issue every time a book fair was organized in any or every city. This time, however, it was different and funny issue.

A young boy, I do not know his age but he is considered a celebrity in social media, decided to publish his first book and he made his intention known through social media. The moment the title and the cover of the book was released in social media, the author came under incessant attack. Some people flayed the writer thinking it was a joke, but as it turned out, the author, true to his word, was at the Riyadh book fair with his published work and was at hand to sign his book at the Riyadh fair.

Those against this young author and others like him, so-called social media stars that have written a book, questioned their state of mind. They queried whether they are capable and fit to write a book. Others have criticized the organizers of the book fair for allowing such titles to be displayed in front of visitors. Others went to another extreme and questioned their ability to write and questioned the knowledge and experience they have in the first place to write a book and how many books they themselves have read before they even qualify to write a book. That in addition to many other nasty things that I cannot publish here.

Those in favor of the young man writing the book blasted those who criticized him, saying it is his God-given right and he does not need anyone’s permission or blessings to write a book. They even said that those who criticized him had not even read the book, and their judgment was based on their hatred toward him for boosting his already exalted status in social media, by becoming an author. There are those who said that the book might be good for people of his age or of a certain demography and he should be encouraged and guided, and, if not, at least to be left alone and not be made an object of vilification.

I have listened to callers in a radio program in support of this young author questioning the criticizing group, whether they are fit or qualified to criticize in the first place. They even said that this huge attack against the author gave him and his book more publicity and that we as a society are expert in putting people down and breaking them, rather than nurturing and supporting them.

The young man is free to write whatever he wants and I, or we, as consumers have the choice to either read it or leave it. In my years in visiting book fairs, I have seen the worst kind of books and titles, but I chose to be selective and chose only what appeals to my taste and interest. I have seen people, in the fair, denigrating or praising loudly books on hearsay, about which they were told by self-appointed experts or friends. It is this approach that I caution against, for one needs to display an independent mind in reading. Whether you like the book or not should be decided by your discerning mind, for any book can give something of value. That’s why there’s the wise saying ‘reading maketh a man’, that indicates knowledge could be had from reading, and one needs to inculcate this habit to be knowledgeable.

We live in a time and age where nothing can be banned. If any author is not able to print his/her book, then they have another quick option to realize their aspirations of becoming an author. The easiest way is to publish it online as an e-book and it will be available to millions online. Again, it is all down to choice. How to publish it, and for the readers whether to pick it up as a book or browse online, in addition to the primary choice of wanting to read.

From time to time, I have read some of the youngest book authors here and there in the West. Of course I cannot compare the content of this author with other young writers, but the difference, I note, is that they received huge support and were encouraged to write when they embarked on this journey. Those who were criticizing, as far as I know, did not say a word against those young writers even if they did not agree with the content. They indirectly gave support to those writers by abstaining themselves from criticism.

A good percentage in our society were born to criticize. They are expert in criticizing with no knowledge of the manner of their criticism and its impact. They aim their cannons at anyone who has achieved something, not necessarily the author mentioned above, and fire away just for the sake of firing. I remember there was a famous TV presenter, who presented good content on how to improve society and people. Even he was not safe from very harsh and baseless criticism. As for the writer mentioned above, if his book was not up to level, then he should be guided and nurtured by able writers then maybe we will have a good writer in the future, instead of destroying him at this stage.

The writer can be reached at mahmad@saudigazette.com.sa

Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng