Readistan
By Shah Rukh Nadeem
Liberty, Karachi
ISBN: 978-6277626037
334pp.

shah Rukh Nadeem is on a mission. The ‘premier booktuber’ of Pakistan, who runs the YouTube channel ‘Book Buddy’, wants to inculcate the habit of diligent reading among people. To do so, he has brought out Readistan, which aims to build the mental acumen, knowledge and insights of Pakistani readers.

Nadeem’s objective seems to stem from the increasingly limited amount of time people can allocate to reading. Time is one of the modern world’s most valuable commodities and it is unfortunate that reading for leisure has been among the earliest casualties of living the fast-paced life. There are innumerable works of fiction and non-fiction that merit our attention, but simply not having the time means we are the ones losing out on important knowledge.

This makes the blurb on the back of Readistan — “The book has been designed to ensure that readers enjoy the breathtaking wisdom that is embedded in its words” — all the more appropriate. As the front cover succinctly explains, here we have 50 of the “best books ever”, compressed to be read in 10 minutes each.

The author discusses a range of genres, from philosophy and business management to self-help, fiction, autobiography, motivation, sociology, psychology, politics, current affairs and history. He has picked from the most popular books in each genre and analysed them in a clear, complete and comprehensive manner.

A Youtuber picks 50 books from a diverse range of genres and summarises their content in a conversational way for those who are struggling with time to read in their fast-paced lives

Early in Readistan is the chapter ‘The Story of My Life’. This is quite interesting in itself, as Nadeem tells of his personal history, especially his teenage years, when his parents inspired him to develop an interest in reading. Despite financial limitations — at one point, he and his four siblings had to sit out an entire year of school because there was no money to pay their fees — his parents ensured they had access to the weekend edition of Dawn newspaper, so that their learning “was not compromised.”

The analyses of the 50 books that make up Readistan begin with a review of Man’s Search for Meaning, written in 1946 by Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and founder of logotherapy Viktor E. Frankl. At the launch of his own book, Nadeem stated this was a deliberate choice, because of how Frankl explains the importance of finding one’s purpose in life.

The analyses are penned in a simple, engaging and conversational style, and revolve around four basic elements. First, the chapter on each book is preceded by a single sentence that sums up the gist of the work with the intent to arouse curiosity. Then, Nadeem introduces the work and its author.

He presents the book’s objective, sheds light on its major concepts and, for works of fiction, explains the story and the main characters. Then come his own insights, where he ‘talks’ about how he interprets the book’s message. His own style of writing is worth mentioning here; he keeps his words simple and precise, directed to the reader in a conversation of sorts.

For instance, about American cartoonist Jessica Hagy’s How to be Interesting, he writes: “It is the desire of almost every individual to possess a charismatic and attractive personality so that people would want to become associated with him. If you think you don’t have a charming personality and your presence is not so magnetic, then don’t worry, because in the next few paragraphs I will tell you principles which, if followed well, will enhance your aura by manifolds.”

Anthologies often run the risk of becoming monotonous because of their similar content. Readistan, on the other hand, manages to keep readers’ curiosity alive and kicking with the broad variety of books included. Many of the titles featured within are modern classics, such as George Orwell’s novella Animal Farm and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. There are well-known self-help publications and an interesting selection of local literature as well, including My Feudal Lord by Tehmina Durrani, Taboo by Fouzia Saeed and Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City by French political scientist Laurent Gayer.

A corporate management consultant, entrepreneur and teacher, in recent years Nadeem has emerged as a thought leader in Pakistan when it comes to reviewing books, his vlogs showing his proficiency in elucidating upon their substance and essence. The same approach is taken in Readistan.

One thing he avoids is being too assertive. Reading is very subjective and no two readers may have the same takeaway from the same book. Sometimes, a reviewer may inadvertently impose their opinion in a manner that overshadows the core message of the book. Nadeem, on the other hand, balances the author’s ideas and theories with his own analysis that does not take away from the spirit of the book.

Compressing 50 books into a single collection will help readers absorb the gist of so many well-known works easily. It may well encourage them to pick up the actual book for further reading. Nadeem writes, “I have stood on the shoulders of giants to bring you a book which you will enjoy”, and there is plenty of space on those shoulders for readers to climb up next to Nadeem.

The reviewer is a columnist, formerly an assistant editor at a magazine and currently working at a business management institute in Karachi. He can be reached at omariftikhar@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, May 14th, 2023

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