After a lengthy absence of nearly two years, the Alexandria International Book Fair is finally back. Organized by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the Egyptian Publishers Association, the Ninth Alexandrina International Book Fair started on the 23rd of March and will come to a close on the 7th of April.
According to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s official website, around 130 publishing houses from all over Egypt, the Arab world, and Europe are participating in the fair. Special attention will be given to publications from Morocco, this year’s guest of honor. A number of cultural activities and book signings will also be taking place in conjunction with the fair.
While most are familiar with the starched white tents situated in the Bibliotheca’s plaza hosting the primary section of the book fair, few know of the equally significant used books section. Located in the Bibliotheca’s Conference Center, and named after the famous Soor Elazbakeya of Cairo, the used books section showcases a dizzying amount of secondhand books in Arabic, English, French, and German. In addition to the towering piles of well-read books on display, you can also find a number of large print photographs and paintings featuring quintessential Egyptian life along with rare, original newspapers.
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The stall owners hail from both Cairo and Alexandria, some owning wooden stalls in Nabi Daniel street in Alexandria, which has for decades been renowned for the string of small stalls dedicated to selling vintage books. While most stall owners have “inherited” their respective businesses from their fathers (who in turn had it passed down to them from their fathers), Mahmoud Kassem from Cairo is an exception.
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Mahmoud was originally a lawyer, but found himself being drawn to the used books industry ever since he was in his twenties. While his family nurtured his and his brothers’ love for reading, none of his family members were in the business. It was their love for reading that eventually led Mahmoud and his brothers to translating their love for literature (and their copious amounts of books) into an actual trade. “I think it’s selfish when someone acquires a book and doesn’t want to share it with anyone. And (my brothers and I) aren’t selfish.”
When asked which genres are most in demand after the January 25th revolution, Mohamed Aboulhamd, who owns a stall in Nabi Daniel, replied that there is an unmistakable surge towards politics, a taboo topic pre-Jan25.
“After the revolution, a lot of people came asking for books that weren’t in demand before. A lot of ideologies are making a comeback: leftist, liberal, rightist, centrist…I have a whole section dedicated to books on politics now.” According to another stall owner, books on Sufism, Shi’ism, and philosophy are also being sought after post-Jan25.
So, if you live in Alexandria, or plan on visiting it anytime soon, be sure to catch the book fair before it packs up and leaves. And don’t forget to visit the Soor Elazbakeya section and chat up the stall owners, all of whom are avid readers and would be pleased to assist you in finding any book you’re looking for from among the endless piles of dusty gems.
The book fair is open from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, except on Fridays when it’s open from 1:00 pm to 10:00 pm.