It goes without saying that one of the best ways to slow down your summer is to activate your brain and pick up a good book. Whether it’s a bestseller or literary classic, the joy of reading extends to everyone, and this is evident in the increasing number of independent bookstores popping up across the region.
As theorised by essayist and critic Walter Benjamin, to unpack your library and build a carefully selected collection is an independent delight, “it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation — which these books arouse in a genuine collector”. A pleasure that manifests in the careful curation required to cultivate a treasured independent bookstore.
Papercup – Beirut, Lebanon
A regional favourite, Papercup was opened in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael neighbourhood 10 years ago by book connoisseur Rania Naufal. The bookstore specializes in art texts, such as photo books, critical theory and architecture. This is complemented by the diverse array of local and international magazines on offer, most of which are independent print publications. All texts can be enjoyed in the bookstore’s charmingly cosy cafe.
Kulte Gallery & Editions – Rabat, Morocco
Kulte is the famous publishing outlet, contemporary art centre and gallery in the heart of Rabat. The bookstore publishes all of its own texts on offer, with titles available in Arabic, French and English, with a particular focus on contemporary art books from the Middle East and North Africa. It is also a jewel of the local Moroccan art scene, with regular exhibitions organised which gives rise to beautiful catalogue additions.
House of Prose – Dubai, UAE
One of the most famous secondhand bookstores in the region, the bookstore had to open up a counterpart across the road due to popular demand. All the books on offer are secondhand and available for purchase at very affordable prices, with a 50 per cent refund if you didn’t enjoy the book. It is also a hub for tourists, as visitors who come to Dubai on holiday and finish a poolside read can sell their book on to the bookstore, with the chance of giving their book a loving new home.
The Book Garden – Tehran, Iran
Despite having opened a mere two years ago, this book emporium is reportedly now the world’s largest bookstore, covering 700,000 square feet. The book haven offers books in all languages from all over the world, with over 400,000 texts (mainly Iranian cartoons) for children. As suggested by its size, the bookstore wants to give you an immersive experience, and encourages people to sit down for a few hours and simply enjoy a book in one of their reading spaces, or their grassy rooftop if you want to enjoy the weather at the same time. A prayer room, art gallery and cinema are also on-site, if you manage to put your book down.
Saqi Books – London, UK
Like Shakespare and Company’s repute in Paris for its range of English books, Saqi Books is the out-of-region go-to for Arabic books. With an incredible selection of books, it is one of the best curated bookstores in London, choosing quality books from the region that have not yet been discovered. Saqi Books specializes in academic texts, and is the leading independent publisher of regional specialist and academic books on the Middle East and North Africa. They are also on the lookout for new non-fiction submissions from emerging Arab writers.