Sunday, 3 November 2013

Al Kotob Khan Book Shop

Image by MPM (CC-BY)
Al Kotob Khan Book Shop
مكتبة الكتب خان

Let's begin this tour of Cairo bookshops close to home -- just across the street from our place, in fact.

Al Kotob Khan Book Shop can be found at 13, Road 254 in Maadi (nearby landmarks are Cairo American College and the Shell supermarket). They have a well-designed website and (wonder of wonders) a searchable inventory online.

I suppose one could call this a concept-bookstore-cum cafeteria. Indeed, they offer a decent selection of (modern) Arabic literature, English books (literary classics, some bestsellers, Art books, translations), in addition to a little German (Reclamheftchen!) and French. They also have CDs, DVDs, handcrafted stationary, local handicraft (kites, book bags), and a very pretty children's section with books in Arabic, English, German and French.

In some ways, Al Kotob Khan is similar to al-Diwan. What distinguishes the two is that the latter has turned into franchise, whereas Al Kotob Khan retains the atmosphere of a family business. One certainly does get the impression that the owner, Mrs. Karam Youssef, and her staff are very engaged in running the store, and eager to make it inviting and special.

The store itself is certainly inviting. Though quite well-attended, Al Kotob Khan is never crowded, or noisy, but feels like a place where one likes to read before buying. The tables are small, but have a view of a calm side street and lush green gardens. As far as I know, there is no other place nearby where one can sit quite so pleasantly -- just what one needs after a hellish commute on the ring road.

Now what makes Al Kotob Khan special? First, the selection of books available: In addition to bestselling and classic titles in Arabic in Literature, they offer a good selection of translations into English. What is find far more interesting is that Al Kotob Khan staff make an effort to promote niche publications, such as graphic novels in Arabic, or CDs of experimental music released on the 100 Copies label.

The store hosts cultural events (poetry readings and the like) from time to time, and serves as a space for exhibits of original artwork. Particularly noteworthy: the book display / فرشة كتب, a regular event to share gently used and new books at reasonable prices.

Oh, and Al Kotob Khan is a publisher. Among other titles, they published: Muḥammad Rabiʿ. ʿĀm al-tinnin. Al-Qāhirah: al-Kutub Khan, 2012. The novel was chosen as winner of the Sawiris Foundation prize for young novelists in 2011. Just so you know.

There is something reassuring about having a bookshop in the neighbourhood, and I am particularly glad that my local bookshop is such an interesting one. I am confident that  Al Kotob Khan will continue to make its mark, despite the competition elsewhere in Maadi.

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