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CommunityHealthMental HealthNot just another summer reading list: 11 unique voices pick their best books

As the old Arabian proverb says, “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.” And what better time than the hot, slow summer to take this “garden” out of your pocket and lose yourself in an imaginary world? Besides the sheer enjoyment of it, research, such as a 2015 study by the UK’s Reading Agency, shows the multiple benefits of reading for pleasure: increased empathy, improved relationships with others through better communication, reduced symptoms...
Rym GhazalJuly 28, 201934 min
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summer reading

As the old Arabian proverb says, “A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.” And what better time than the hot, slow summer to take this “garden” out of your pocket and lose yourself in an imaginary world? Besides the sheer enjoyment of it, research, such as a 2015 study by the UK’s Reading Agency, shows the multiple benefits of reading for pleasure: increased empathy, improved relationships with others through better communication, reduced symptoms of depression through improved self-esteem, reduced anxiety and stress and greater understanding of other cultures.The first word revealed to the Prophet Mohammed from the Quran was “Iqra” (read), so to seek knowledge through reading is no small thing. In short, reading is good for you. 

Every summer, I try to discover authors from different countries and cultures. This summer I am reading works by Canadian indigenous writers. One of the few books I return to and like to give as a gift because it is timeless and ageless is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This book reminds us all of the true nature of selfless giving and of how much we take for granted. Another book I sometimes give as a gift is Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, hoping that new readers will love the spell-binding prose on everything from love to birth to death, as much as I do. 

People read for many reasons – to discover, to escape, to learn, to be inspired and to heal. We asked 11 creative people who live in or are connected to the UAE for their recommendations for readers of all ages. So follow their lead, pick up a book and learn a little bit about yourself this summer. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” 

Sheikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al Nahyan, artist and filmmaker 

summer reading
Amam Al Arsh, by Naguib Mahfouz

A slower-paced summer is the perfect time for finishing the books we started or starting the books we bought. A good start for me is one I bought a while ago at a previous Abu Dhabi Book Fair. Its title is Amam Al Arsh (Before The Throne), and is by the Egyptian literary icon Naguib Mahfouz (the first Arabic writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature). It imagines Egyptian Pharaohs and Arabian rulers all talking and arguing together. After lying almost forgotten in a dark corner of the bookshelf, the time has come for its splendid dialogue to drive me round and about. It surely beats the debates we hear today.

Genealogy is another subject of much interest to me, so another summer read is A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford, a look into the world of DNA. Science proves how we are similar and where we differ. Genealogy binds us with the land and people by related traits. Family trees are a big thing here. It’s amusing to see how many surnames the children can recall and to remember all the ancestors too. 

In case my summer could use some action, an adventure novel by Clive Cussler, The Romanov Ransom, is just the thrill I need. I can’t decide what’s best about the story – is it the duo of adventurers or the Romanovs as a backdrop? – but it’s ideal for a staycation in Abu Dhabi. I highly recommend discovering these books yourself. 

Husain Adel Al Hashmi, 17, Emirati artist, designer and aspiring author

summer reading

Reading during the summer break is a joy I look forward to each year, as books help open a new window into my own understanding of the world around me. 

For anyone looking for a bit of magic and to anyone involved in some field of creativity, I recommend Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is a beautiful book that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy through a magical journey, and introduces a distinct definition of “creative living without fear.” It’s a book you can’t stop reading because you find yourself loving every page, finding the hidden gems and learning to understand the beauty of creative living. The author explains the role of fear in a creative journey and the right way to use it, sharing her personal experience in finding her creative voice before she became a writer. 

It’s that honesty that engages the reader, especially when you can relate to it and know you’re not the only person facing a particular situation. Gilbert discusses various approaches to creativity and inspiration through history and how different meanings arise in different cultures and societies. Although creativity can be viewed differently through multiple perspectives, the beauty of expression is a constant factor that encourages creative people to go on using their imagination. 

Sheikha Shamsa Al Nahyan, author of an upcoming series of children’s books, education motivator and book lover

summer reading

Summer calls for a reading list and hopefully we will get through all the books from beginning to end. This season, our family book club is reading Al Hakim Bi Amr Allah, by Hussein Al Sayyed. It’s set in the Fatimid era in Cairo in the time of the controversial Caliph Abu ʿAli Manur, better known by his regal title Al Hakim Bi Amr Allah (958-1021 AD). The story starts off very dark as something happens to him. Then there’s something scary in the soul. The setting is described in great and captivating detail and I like the portrayal of the protagonist’s character and the secret between him and his plotting sister. It’s always fascinating to learn more about the history of Arabs, even more so through a historical novel as the genre inspires me to learn about everyday life during various periods. I am looking forward to learning more about what happens to the ruffled girl from the souq. 

Among others, the plan is also to read The Sultan and the Queen: The Untold Story of Elizabeth and Islam, by Jerry Brotton. I am eager to read this book as it’s relevant to current events in our world. I’m amazed by how Queen Elizabeth I was fascinated by Islam at a time when knowledge of the wider world was so limited. 

Jessica Jarlvi, Swedish author of the psychological thrillers ‘When I Wake Up’ and ‘What Did I Do?’ 

My mind is thirsty for a large variety of books, which is why I typically have five books on the go at the same time. Next to my bed is the true story Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, which offers a fascinating insight into the secrets and lies of a Silicon Valley startup and reads like a page-turning thriller. In the car I’m listening to The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which is narrated by Tolle in his soothing voice and is a great reminder to stay present. On my Kindle, I’m fascinated by the original and award-winning The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, about a girl in Harlem who uses slam poetry to understand her world. At the same time I’m also absorbed by Hotel on Shadow Lake by Daniela Tully, a historical novel set in Nazi Germany. I also regularly pick up Shad Helmstetter’s 365 Days of Positive Self-Talk, which always leaves me feeling empowered and I recently finished reading the thriller The Taking of Annie Thorn by CJ Tudor, which I simply couldn’t put down.

Yasser Al Gergawi UAE artist , author and Director of Programs & Partnership at the Ministry of Tolerance

To sail away into the literary world in the slower months is a long-held tradition. I finish two to four books a month at least. One I always go back to and recommend for all to read or re-read is A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. I never get bored of reading it and it triggers a different level of imagination. It is a great pleasure to read it and then watch it being interpreted on stage. 

As we celebrate the Year of Tolerance, I suggest that all should read Treatise on Tolerance, by the French philosopher Voltaire. It also tells beautiful stories from great French history, which later became part of global culture. 

Noura Al Noman, the UAE sci-fi writer and winner of the 2013 Etisalat Award for Young Adult Fiction for ‘Ajwan,’ the first book in a trilogy for young adults. 

Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability is a great audio book for everyone. The “Aha moments” never stop jolting you. Now more than ever the world is in need of compassion and this book is a first step to understanding what passion is and how to become wholehearted people.

Manal Ataya, Director-General of Sharjah Museums Authority

Every summer I like to read two new books and revisit a classic I have read in the past, whether in university or elsewhere. I am interested in a variety of topics but I tend to read mostly non-fiction.  

This summer I am reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Last year, I lost a friend to cancer that I had not seen in many years. Reading this book is helping me understand and deal with grief, which I believe many people struggle with.  

Another book recommended to me by a close friend who clearly knows me too well is Thrive by Ariana Huffington. I agree with the author that it’s important to take a step back from overworking and find ways to better balance and enjoy my life and still be successful. I am looking forward to seeing if I can make positive changes after reading it. 

And finally, the classic book I’m re-reading is Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I remember crying the first time I read this book 20 years ago. I can’t wait to read it again.  

Yasmine Badran, American, owner of the independent Early Starters Bookstore in Abu Dhabi

The “summer slide” is real. Kids and teenagers often lose many of the skills they learned through the school year after a long summer disconnect. Taking time to read during the summer or joining a summer reading program is essential to help maintain literacy skills learned in the previous school year. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Reading over the summer is not just another suggestion for parents to keep kids occupied, it’s actually critical to help them advance and stay on track.

Some of the books I recommend for summer: My Books Summer Pack by Scholastic, for ages 3 to 6 years old. These take-home packs are great because they include five engaging books, a summer reading journal, activity sheets for each title, a parent guide with tips and resources, colored pencils and a postcard. 

How to make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman, for ages 6 to 10 years old is my all-time personal favorite. This book takes you around the world in search of all the ingredients you need to make an apple pie. It also includes a delicious recipe to make your own pie at the end.

The Dogman Series by Dav Pilkey (10+) – what’s not to love about this series? It’s weird and hilarious.

Sophie’s World (12+): I remember reading this when I was in school and it just opened my mind to different ideas, a little bit of mystery and an introduction to philosophy.

A little treat for myself and young adults: The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda. I always love a thriller. This kept me on edge with all its twists and suspense.

M Lynx Qualey, from the US, is the editor-in-chief of the award winning online magazine ArabLit that focuses on Arabic literature and translations 

I recommend spending this summer discovering Pearls on a Branch: Tales From the Arab World Told by Women, collected by Najla Jraissaty Khoury and translated by Inea Bushnaq. When I was a young reader, one of my most treasured books was Arab Folktales, also edited and translated by Bushnaq. I read those stories over and over, loving the rhythm of Bushnaq’s translations. This collection of women-focused oral stories sits perfectly at that sweet spot of folktales for adults: the sort of stories that make us remember why we fell in love with reading.

Dr Louise Lambert, Dubai-based positive psychologist from Canada, professor, manager of iBringGCC

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson. Whether the title offends you or makes you curious, this book deserves a look. It’s a must for anyone who is taking themselves and their problems, as well as the problems of others, far too seriously. Life is tough and life is great and somewhere in between, we must learn to know what to care about and what not to. This book helped me learn when to say “whatever” and roll my eyes internally (and save my sanity in the process) as well as understand what – and who – is worth my stress, anxiety and efforts. Do yourself a favor this summer and learn to keep life in perspective by learning how to care a lot less about what just doesn’t matter.

Matthew Harffy, from the UK, author of the Bernicia Chronicles series of historical fiction novels

Lying on a beach or by the pool or just enjoying a moment of peace during the summer holidays is best with a good book. What is it that we look for in a summer read? For me, it is a plot and characters that drag me into the story, away from the daily grind. Escapism and genre fiction are what I turn to during the holidays. Pageturners that I want to pick up and not put down, no matter what other distractions might beckon. There is nothing better than getting lost in a great book.

If thrillers are your thing, this summer you can’t do better than The Killing Gene by EM Davey. It’s clever as well as action-packed and takes the leading characters from leafy suburban Britain to exotic locations in Africa and Asia in search of a missing woman and the secrets she has unearthed – secrets that will rock everything we know about the evolution of modern humankind. It’s quite an adventure and, as you would expect, there are murderous enemies who will stop at nothing to prevent long-hidden secrets from being exposed.

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Rym Ghazal

Rym Tina Ghazal is a cross-cultural and Arab history expert. She is also a peace ambassador, thought/youth leader, documentarian, lecturer and author for young readers. As an award-winning journalist with more than 15 years’ experience, she was one of the first Arab women to cover war zones in the Middle East, in 2003.

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