Arts & Leisure

Book review: Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller — Nadia Wassef

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

In 2002, Nadia Wassef, along with four business partners, one of them her sister, opened Diwan Bookstore in Cairo, Egypt, the flagship store of what was to become, and is, a successful chain of bookstores and the leading seller of English and Arabic books in Egypt. This loving recollection takes the reader through that first store on 26th of July Street — in one of the grand Baehler mansions replete with high ceilings, courtyards and stucco details that echo their glorious past — section by section, talking about the origins, inspirations, and aspirations by talking about the books. For a book lover, and a bookseller, this is such a treat, and the bibliographic knowledge imparted is just the beginning. Wassef weaves Egypt’s history — regarding the written word, education, culture and politics, gender disparities — into Egypt’s present and current realities. It is an informative and fascinatingly unique perspective that she brings to the table. It is also humorous, vulnerable and honest, as when she talks about reconciling the demands of home and work as a woman, and about how reading is like traveling — “We go to distant lands to understand difference. In doing so, we meet ourselves.” Shelf Life is a trip definitely worth taking.

— Reviewed by Jenny Lyons of The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury.

10 Great Titles About Books & Bookselling

Tolstoy Together, by Yiyun Li

The Madman’s Library, by Edward Brooke-Hitching

Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi

Read Until You Understand, by Farah Jasmine Griffin

Between the Lines, by Uli Beutter Cohen

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, by Lewis Buzbee

The Bookseller of Kabul, by Åsne Seierstad

The Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell

84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff

The Bookseller of Florence, by Ross King

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