The 29th Sharjah International book fair opened in grand style Tuesday with a tented reception lit with chandeliers and the presence of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, ruler of Sharjah, the Emirate that, thanks to the goals of the Sheikh, presents itself as the capital of culture for the Arab world. Sharjah has set itself up as an international center for the dissemination of Arab culture and promotion of books and literacy.

The fair has 789 publishing houses, 117 local, the rest across the Arab world, showcasing 200,000 book titles. Sharjah is a consumer fair and families with shopping carts walk the aisles. The foreign (English-language books) are in one booth in a combined exhibit from American and British publishers such as Random House, Penguin, Cannongate, and others. The houses pick their "in-house bestsellers" and they are here for sale. Titles range from Danielle Steele mass markets to Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat to the Twilight series. Combined Book Exhibit’s Jon Malinowski is manning the booth.

An interest in literacy and children's books is foremost with the Sheikh's daughter, Sheikha Boudour, head of the largest children’s book publishing house in the Arab world. It was at the Bologna Book Fair 2010 that the Sheika contracted with Orion Publishers for world rights for her first children’s book sold to a foreign publisher.

Awards were presented for the best books published in English, and one highlight was the best children’s foreign book, How Many Donkeys? An Arabic Counting Tale retold by Margaret Read MacDonald and Nadia Jameel Taibah. Albert Whitman & Company published the book in the U.S. last year. The prize for best foreign book in business went to Stalking the Black Swan: Research and Decision Making in a World of Extreme Volatility by Kenneth A. Posner (Columbia Univ. Press) and Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates by Adrian Johns (Univ. of Chicago Press) was best foreign book selected from inhouse bestsellers.

The Sheikh also presented his memoir, My Early Life, which will be launched at the London Book Fair next year by Bloomsbury UK with a U.S. publication to follow. Nigel Newton, chief executive of Bloomsbury UK, hot off the success of the Booker winner, hailed the Sheikh's memoir as not only a great story but that of a great writer.