By Kamila Hyat, for the Gulf News (April 28, 2008)
Lahore: For years, book lovers in Lahore, a city reputed for its literary history as well as its architectural inheritance, have mourned the apparent loss of the love of reading.
Many book shops have gradually vanished and in others, magazines have taken the place of more substantial tomes.
Teachers and parents have lamented the fact that in an age of television, DVDs, computer games and numerous other forms of jazzy electronic entertainment, children had turned away from books.
But, a single experimental idea has proved much of this conjecture about the relationship between Lahoris and books to be false.
The large Readings bookstore, which stocks row after row of used books, encyclopaedias and other literary material from the US, has within the two years or so of its existence become one of the most popular spots in the city.
Easy for readers
Scattered floor cushions and stools create a comfortable environment for browsers and the careful categorisation of the books makes it easy for readers of all ages and interest groups to find the kind of reading material they like best.
“The sight of children of all ages sitting and looking through piles of books is thrilling. I had really feared this was a dying habit, but this shop has shown that if books are reasonably priced people love to buy them,” said Hajra Asad, 75, who was visiting the shop with her great-grandson, aged four.
With an entire area devoted to children’s books, many kids can be seen there each afternoon – particularly as the heat of summer makes any other outdoor activity impossible.
A key attraction of the shop is the extremely low cost of the books, with prices starting at Rs20 (Dh1.83) or less. This means, for many clients, the liberty of going home laden with a whole pile of books they can leaf through at leisure.
The price of most imported books is generally at least ten or twenty times of the items sold at Readings, putting them beyond the reach of many and forcing almost everyone to think twice before buying.
A new Cafe opened at the shop, another first for Lahore where the concept of eateries inside bookshops has not previously been tried out, adds to the pleasure of visiting the spot.
Of course, the addition of the coffee, tea and refreshment place, also keeps people within the premises longer, encouraging book buying sprees. The bookshop has also been setting up stalls at city schools, to encourage children to buy books.
Most importantly, the arrival of Readings has demonstrated that the age-old love affair between Lahore and literature has not faded away.