Saudi Arabia is a land in crisis. As a featured read aloud performer for next week's Literacy Day, I've made some sad discoveries. The literacy movement has found its way into the Kingdom, but prematurely. Being that I have recently moved to this country from my home, the United States, I have a very limited personal library. Shipping books is expensive and I was given the impression I would have a good selection in my new home.
I could not have been more misled!
After taking on my role as reader aloud extraordinaire, I headed to my school's library. In the tiny English section of the library, I found a hodge-podge collection of children's books, mostly from the mid-80s to early 90s. They were not properly alphabetized, a lot of them were strewn about the floor, and most of their spines were broken and tattered. The sight brought tears to my eyes.
"Alright," I thought to myself, "I'll just go to my local bookstore. It must have a better selection."
I could not have been more wrong!
My driver (read: husband) and I went to a new bookstore, because I had been told that this one had a better selection than our typical haunt. We even sat in the parking lot for 30 minutes because we arrived just as salah (prayer) was beginning. After the doors were finally opened, I went in with a mission: Find a good children's book and get out.
I could not have been more disappointed!
There were hardly any children's books--in English or Arabic! So off we went to our usual bookstore. It's two levels, only one of which has books. This should be a sign to you, Barnes and Noble, of how desperate this Kingdom is for a real bookstore! The children's book section is comprised of 3 aisles. Most of the books are either text versions of a Ben10, SpongeBob, or Hannah Montana episode. Or English grammar books. It was a miracle I was able to find a selection of 4 obscure Dr. Seuss books, no The Cat in the Hat, or his other famous stand-bys.
Don't even get me started on the young adult lit section! ONE two-sided aisle! That's IT! And 90% of those books are vampire books!! There's the occasional Meg Cabot, but nothing of real substance! Where's the Maureen Johnson? The E. Lockhart?! For heavens sakes at least stock some Lois Lowry!!
So I'm begging you, Barnes and Noble (or any Western bookseller that's listening), please open a branch in Saudi Arabia. Yes, I know the censorship laws are horribly restrictive and probably more trouble than it's worth, but there are READERS here! I realize that the conservative leadership would never allow wonderful authors like John Green, Rachel Cohn, or Alex Sanchez through customs, but at least TRY to introduce some Ally Carter, Adam Rex, and Neil Gaiman! Their stories are not controversial, and have nothing to do with sucking blood. I know! You could open a branch inside a resort, one of those walled compounds that is an oasis from the prohibitive kill-joys that have a stronghold on the current literary situation.
This country is making a push for literacy before it even has anything to read! Do it for the desperate Americans who thought they were going to be able to enjoy a lazy afternoon with a good book. Do it for the Saudi children who don't know the wonders of Eric Carle, Don Freeman, or Mo Willems. Do it for the teenagers who think that Stephenie Meyers is the ultimate YAL author! The Kingdom needs to be enlightened, and I NEED A GOOD BOOK, DARNIT!
I'm begging you,
At least you found SOME books! Out in the provences there is nothing at all. Add to that Saudi women may not be allowed in public libraries if there are not suitable segregated sections or days. With few books and sparse net connections, even at the university level women, especially, are at risk.