Anabiah Arif, Chief Executive – Book Cafe Official, is on a mission to revive and promote the culture of reading in Pakistan. Read her exclusive interview with where she discusses her literary ventures and how she became a bibliophile. 

1. What is the story behind the Book Cafe Official.Pk?
Being an avid reader since my childhood, I could witness a decline in the love of literature and books among our community. I always had an urge to contribute in some way to revive the culture of reading and writing in Pakistan. Considering that, I took the initiative of launching the Book Cafe Official to provide an authentic place where I could conveniently furnish honest book reviews, recommendations, updates regarding new books. It also helped me to induce people to indulge in the habit of book reading. I was successful enough to launch various concepts such as “Blind Date With A Book”, monthly book subscription boxes, and product launches as in book sleeves along with other book themed merchandise.

2. How did you conceive the idea of Book Cafe’s Hobbit Hall?
Well, the main idea behind my Facebook community Book Cafe’s Hobbit Hall was to provide a free, cozy platform to give all the lovers of book, arts, literature, music, drama, movie a place to express themselves; where they could enjoy an ambiance of a virtual café, give a boost to their imaginations, express their opinions, interact with people with different mindsets, indulge in various bookish activities and challenges which intrigues them to read new titles, authors and genres.

3. What other literary endeavors have you been working on?
I had been previously working for around 5 to 6 months upon my monthly book subscription boxes and launched them last month. It was truly overwhelming to see the response and excitement that the booklovers expressed. Apart from this, I have a variety of plans to execute such as to launch exclusive Book Café’s literary miniatures and loads of other stuff.

4. What inclined you to work to promote books and literature?
It is devastating to witness how people are distancing themselves from literature and books that are a part of our history. So many talented writers are waiting for their book to be published, but they do not have an audience who would read their work. Maybe that is the reason why we do not have many publishing companies, bookstores, or new emerging authors. Being a bibliophile, I am trying to pursue my goal and taking small steps to bring a change, promote reading, writing, and literature via my platform.

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5. Pakistan Digital Awards presented you with the “Best Start-Up of Pakistan 2018” award. Tell us about it.
It was a delightful experience for me. I was approached by the Pakistan Digital Awards team interested to see me as one of their nominees for the specific category and I was more than happy to agree to it. They had a couple of stages to qualify for the final show. All the nominees were shortlisted by the jury members and I was successful to pass each stage. The next phase was the live-pitch session with the jury where the nominees had to face them, present their brand, and convince them about how deserving we were to win. It was indeed tough, but they surely were impressed by how I have been working for my brand at such a young age and intrigued to witness my plans turn into action. It was a proud moment when I got to know that big companies and brands such as Suzuki, K-Electric, Careem, JS Bank, Dvago, etc were too part of the award show. Finally, it was the award ceremony with some tough brands competing with me in the same category. However, I was successful enough to see my Book Cafe Official awarded as the “Best Start-Up Of Pakistan 2018”.

6. Do you think the youth of Pakistan is moving away from reading?
They surely are. The era of social media has taken away the love and affection people used to have for reading. This is truly heartbreaking!

7. Why is the library culture not thriving in Pakistan?
Library culture in Pakistan? Sounds to be more of the bygone days. People are least bothered to work upon such initiatives as our preferences have changed. Books and reading do not seem to be a priority. However, I was happy to see the two street libraries inaugurated in Karachi but hopeful that the people will utilize them for the right reasons and this project expands to other cities of Pakistan too. Also, the British Council Pakistan library is one great place but needs to be known among the masses.

8. You introduced the concept of “Blind Dates with A Book” in Pakistan. Can you share more about it?
So, “Blind Date With A Book” is a concept where the reader gets to purchase a book without getting to see the cover or the title except for a few hints regarding the book and the genre. It was a fascinating idea that I thought people would enjoy in Pakistan and would make them curious to read the book. They would have to read the book to enjoy their date, that was my idea of promoting the culture of reading. I thought of launching it in Pakistan with a little improvisation that the blind dates available at Book Cafe come with entire book-themed merchandise and people loved it!

9. How do you think the youth can be motivated to take up book reading as a regular habit?
I think reading cannot be enforced upon someone until they do not want to pick a book. Our youth should enroll themselves in various book clubs, set up reading challenges for each year, and start reading a book they want. I am sure there won’t be any coming back.

10. What message will you give to the youth of Pakistan?
Being a youth myself, I feel it is our righteous duty to endorse the positive outlook of Pakistan which our media surely fails to do as our community is more responsive to negative news. We should work upon unity among each other while keeping all our religious, sectarian, and political differences aside. We should work upon ourselves to become better and never forget to thrive and prosper – that is the best we could do for Pakistan!

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