ASTANA – With her blossoming book project, I Book You, Marina Sharipova hopes to get her country reading. I Book You (ibookyou.kz) is a non-commercial project about books and readers with the ultimate mission of instilling an interest in reading and making reading a national priority. More than 16 book exchanges, including the children’s storytelling and charity event “Blind Date with a Book,” have been organised in Almaty, Astana, Aktobe and Shymkent since 2014.
This year, a book exchange event will be held July 30 in the capital.
The idea to start a blog about books came to Sharipova in 2013 while she was on maternity leave and working as a freelance author and blogger. Starting a business while on maternity leave is an emerging trend in Kazakhstan.
Currently, Sharipova is working as an editor at the Look.tm lifestyle portal and is involved in reading challenges and video blogging.
“The idea of a reading blog came to my mind when I thought about a socially useful project. Initially, I wanted to organise a book fest, but I decided to start with an online project, and a year later we started to organise the book exchange events and meetings with readers. There are currently four members of the team: myself, Aina Dosmakhambetkyzy, Ainash Itkulova and Aidana Togysbayeva. We all write posts, run the social network [and] work on the events,” said Sharipova in a recent interview with The Astana Times.
According to Sharipova, the inaugural investment was 3,000 tenge (US$9) for the domain purchase. As the organisation of events and the blog itself do not produce a significant profit, the project’s activities basically can be called a hobby.
Book lovers involved with the project usually meet on Saturday mornings in a city cafe. They exchange books, get acquainted with each other, take part in a literary quiz and enjoy a morning coffee with friends.
“We have constant participants now who bring books that they took on previous book swaps. The most common age of our readers is between 25 and 35, mostly women. The most popular genres are fiction, current bestsellers and classic literature. Participants also bring children’s literature, nonfiction books and books in Kazakh and English. The most participants we ever had was almost 200 people at one time. They hardly fit into the cafe, and almost 1,000 books were exchanged,” she said.
The latest I Book You swap was held at the My Café restaurant with an entrance fee of 1,000 tenge (US$3) or a pack of diapers. The organisers raised 100,000 tenge (US$296.16) and bought 25 packs of diapers for a pediatric oncology department.
“We have done two charity events with the initiative ‘Be Better for Kids.’ Both aimed to help the pediatric oncology department of the National Centre of Pediatrics and Surgery. Blind Date with a Book was hosted by Esentai Mall. We covered the books with brown paper and wrote hints for readers about what was inside. The funds raised were used to buy new books for children in the department,” Sharipova said.
Sharipova says she and other organisers have received a lot of letters from participants saying that thanks to the I Book You blog, they’ve started reading again. Half their readers say e-books are more convenient, while the rest still love paper books.
“As for me, I prefer paper books and I have a spacious home library, but I always carry an e-book when I travel,” Sharipova said.
“Even though there is a high interest in our blog activities, reading is not a very common or popular in Almaty and other cities as well, I guess,” she said on why reading culture seems underdeveloped in Kazakhstan. “When we walk, ride the subway or visit restaurants, we hardly ever see a person reading a book. At the same time, we have very ambitious plans and want to launch the next edition of I Book You Boxes [gift sets for book lovers], launch a photo project and the biggest plan– I can’t tell now, but we hope that it will be something very new to Kazakhstan,” she said.