THE LARGEST BOOK FAIR IN THE WORLD

by | Nov 20, 2021 | The Writer's Life, Tosca Lee | 7 comments

By Tosca Lee

Five days ago my husband and I returned from the United Arab Emirates, where we’d flown for a short, four-day visit to the Sharjah International Book Fair—currently the largest in the world.

We’d never been to the UAE before, so just going at all was an amazing adventure for us. But in our five nights and four quick, jet-lagged days, a few experiences emerged as highlights:

Heading in to the GEMS Metropole School in Dubai to talk to students

1. School visits

I was fortunate to visit three separate schools—a girls’ school and an English school in the emirate of Sharjah and an international school in Dubai. Oh my gosh, how it did my heart good to be among secondary school students, to ask them how many of them wanted to write (so many!) and to field their questions.

“What is your favorite thing about being a writer?”

“What is the disadvantage of being a writer?” (A question I’ve never been asked!)

“Where do you get your ideas?”

“How did you learn to write novels?”

And I loved even more when the talk was done but they wanted to keep talking, coming to gather around my table or hang out in the library.

2. Writer friends

Having missed Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, and cancelled all my library, school, and other visits of 2020 and the first part of 2021, can I just say how great it felt to be in the company of friends K.J. Howe and Kathleen Antrim talking face-to-face (!) about writing, sure, but mostly just about life. Living moments in the UAE together that turn into the best, lasting souvenirs.

3. Locals

How I loved the conversations we had with the local book fair representatives. One in particular, who accompanied my husband and I to my international school visit in Dubai, graciously answered my questions about his family (six children and two wives) and even showed me the plans for his new house on his phone. Another fielded questions about his Western clothing one day and long robes the next, and (after taking us our last day to the souks to shop, where we got to see him in action) where he learned to drive such a hard bargain.

4. The souks

We spent out last day in the souks shopping for spices—saffron, curry, and menthol. For perfume and dates and candy. It was fascinating to me to see and smell so much of the frankincense I wrote about in my novel The Legend of Sheba. To see the indigo and sulfur for sale, the dried lemons and sweet fruit teas. Everything in our suitcase smelled heavenly upon arriving home.

All in all, it was too quick a trip—but it was momentous and meaningful. A bucket list item we hope to check off more than once.

Dear reader, what countries are on your bucket list?

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7 Comments

  1. Rogue Women Writers

    What an “exotic” location for a Book Fair. I’ve been to many Book Fairs, but none like that one. From your description of talks, Q&A and all the rest, it sounds like absolutely everyone you met — children and adults — all speak English….right? In any event, I guess now I will have to add Dubai to my own bucket list. Thanks for the nudge!….Karna Small Bodman

    Reply
    • Tosca Lee

      Yes, everyone we met spoke English so we never had trouble communicating. And to my delight, with so many international TV channels broadcast in the UAE (French, Russian, Indian), I even found a Korean channel to catch up on some K-drama for a few snippets at a time. 😀

      Reply
  2. Lisa Black

    That sounds fascinating! So glad you got to visit the schools! And glad my husband is only allowed one wife.

    I’ve already hit a number of countries on my bucket list, but still have Spain, Ireland and Egypt to go!

    Reply
  3. Jenny Milchman

    I have heard about this one! Would love to attend sometime and see the country. Thanks for the peek, and so happy for you–and others–to be IR: again.

    Reply
  4. Chris Goff

    Dubai has long been on my bucket list. I’d love to attend this book fair. My oldest daughter worked for a company for a while that promoted trips in Dubai to tour operators. She was in charge of selling the travel agents on booking the tours, so she went to Dubai with them twice a year. She told me they have an indoor ski area in one of their malls. I would love to go and ski there! Ski in the afternoon. Sit in the sun on the beach or by the pool in the afternoon. Fascinating!

    I have to agree with Lisa about one wife. I’m not sure I’d be so great at sharing. And what was his answer when asked why Western clothes one day and long robes the next? Do the women have the same privilege?

    Reply
    • Tosca Lee

      He said it was a matter of comfort and that the color or type of robes is, too. 🙂 For the women, I didn’t ask, but I did see a full spectrum of dress!

      Reply
  5. Yusuf DeLorenzo

    We lived on the Palm Jumeirah, the island development that looks like a palm tree from above, and loved it… despite the paperwork and red tape for expats. Dunno the numbers, but the Emiratis are surely in the minority; though they make up for that in so many ways. I tell everyone who asks that it’s ‘a great place for a visit…’ without finishing the advice; because negativity in relation to the place can come back to haunt you. But, enjoy. There’s so much there to surprise you. And, as a setting for adventure, mystery, and intrigue, it can’t be beat. I’m selling myself the setting for my next book!

    Reply
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