Only two out of five Afghans can read. But those who can are snapping up as many books as they can. In a country where foreign aid budgets and cheap imports have destroyed many local businesses, publishing is flourishing. Kabul alone has at least 60 bookstores and close to two dozen publishers (up from a mere two during the Taliban years).
Per the Times recent dispatch from the frontlines of Afghan bookselling:
In a turbulent, troubled society, curling up with a book has become the best tonic around.
“I think in any environment, but perhaps especially places at war, book reading creates a pause from day-to-day life and isolates a reader from their surroundings while they’re buried in a book,” said Jamshid Hashimi, who runs an online library and is a co-founder of the Book Club of Afghanistan. “This is powerful anywhere, but in a place like Afghanistan, it can be a means of emotional survival.”
Interestingly, many recent bestsellers have been Afghan translations of books by Westerners about Afghanistan, such as Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars and The Envoy, Zalmay Khalizad’s memoir about serving as American ambassador in Kabul.