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A novel way to escape

April 8 - 14 , 2020

Gulf Weekly Mai Al Khatib-Camille
By Mai Al Khatib-Camille

Gulf Weekly A novel way to escape

Three book-loving friends have launched a reading challenge to encourage people to stay at home, invest their time into something other than watching TV and support local bookshops and businesses.

Salma Mattar, 28, Maryam Al Ameer, 25, and Batool Fardan, 25, started the 16-day challenge on March 25 with the aim of inspiring people to stay self-quarantined and spend their free time in a creative way.

The Instagram bloggers, called the Booksteers, coined after Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers, teamed up with five bookshops to offer daily winners of the Booksteers at Home challenge with a variety of prizes including books or store vouchers.

“We saw how everyone was struggling to find productive and creative things to do at home and how our local businesses were being affected during this current situation, so we wanted to help out,” said Salma, the Ahlia University marketing management student who adores audio books and is known as the bubbly, chatty one of the trio. “That’s why we thought of the 16-day challenge, to encourage people around Bahrain to stay at home, to be creative and to bring awareness to local businesses.”

To participate in the challenge, readers must follow the directions posted on their Instagram account @booksteers. Their adorable Earthateer character announces a new challenge every day and followers have 24 hours to join in the fun. For example, snap a picture of yourself reading a book while drinking tea, and on another day, snap a photo of a book that you recommend to others. Then you must tag the Booksteers as well as the bookshop sponsors and hashtag #BooksteersAtHome in the caption. If the account is private, then participants can direct message an image to the ladies with the hashtag.

“We received amazing feedback from people who were grateful for such a challenge as it gave them something to do during this time,” said Batool, who works at a bookstore. “We were thrilled about it, but never thought we would get such positive and kind responses, even from outside Bahrain. It’s very hectic coming up with new ideas to spice up the challenge, but really, that’s something we’re happy to do. The participants are getting more creative with their snaps and we’re improving for the better. We started doing short videos for the challenge posts as well and designing ads for our sponsors to add them between our story threads too.

“We hope this will continue to bring joy to people and encourage them to love books as much as we do.”

The three ladies had connected three years ago over their passion for reading and books. “We talked all day about books, took each other’s suggestions and read way more than before,” said Maryam, who has a Bachelor’s degree in mobile and telecommunications engineering and currently works in the private sector.

“We had this big love for reading and we wanted to share it with others and that’s why one day we decided to start book blogging. The funny part is that we didn’t know anything about Instagram blogging at that time. We just posted pictures with reviews and shared them with our family and friends. Almost one year later, we discovered that there is actually a thing called Bookstagram and it opened a whole new world for us.”

They then started their own book club last year in July. “Bookstagramming embraced our artistic eyes,” added Batool. “Since then, we became more creative in taking pictures and sometimes photo-shopping them. Beautiful scenery always rouses the soul. It encouraged many to start reading or snapping creative pictures for us to share. To us, these things are the peak of any compliment we could possibly get.”

Salma thanks her mum for bestowing her with the gift of reading and writing. She would give her notebooks to write her own stories. “Now that I’m grown, I know it was my mum’s way to deal with four children at once. However, it really shaped who I am now as a person and a reader. When I was a child, most of our books were classics and I grew up to be a ‘classicaholic’.

“Other than that, I read almost everything from fiction including fantasy, romance and thrillers. I like reading self-help books and this year I’m reading biographies every month as a personal non-fiction challenge for myself.”

Maryam grew up in a ‘reading family’ too. She loves to read different genres but her love has always been fantasy and classic tales. Her desire to grow more readers is working as she has turned three people into avid readers with a fourth on the way.

As for Batool, she is known by her friend as the life of any party and is a hard core gamer. She fell in love with books as a teenager, mostly reading fantasies. She recently picked up different genres. She loves anything that moves her soul.

The challenge will end this Friday.

To participate, follow @booksteers and follow the directions in Earthateers post of the day.

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