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Half the World Away

Tonight is World Book Night. It’s an event that sees volunteers put thousands of books into the hands of strangers, “Spreading the love of reading, person to person” as the slogan goes. As tonight’s events aim to place books into the care of those who do not frequently read or have access to books, it dawned on me that it is rewarding to live in a society that is able and willing to allow this free circulation of cultural capital. You could say I am reading into this too much, but I will counter that in this imperfect society, such collective moments of benevolence like these are to be savored, if only for a night.

For me, this point was put into sharp focus when I came across this piece of news. The article reports that Magdy El Shafee, the author of Egypt’s first graphic novel, Metro, has been arrested following clashes between rival political groups. Hearing of this news put back into mind when El Shafee was previously arrested by former President Mubarak and Metro banned for “offending public morals.” Only recently has El Shafee’s novel been made available in Arabic in Epygt.

So, tonight, when we have the privilege of exchanging literary treasures, keep in mind those who still struggle and fight to make their voices heard, if only for a night.

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