In the midst of all the chaos of Cairo, its traffic, pollution and depressing headlines, I find myself smiling ear to ear while paying the one pound ticket to the Cairo International Book Fair on a warm, sunny winter day.
A self-proclaimed book hoarder like myself should stay away from book fairs, but the excuse of having to write about it and network for Rowayat gives me the perfect justification and adds a skip to my step as I enter the famous exhibition grounds in Madinet Nasr.
As I walk through the various tents, there is no other place I’d rather be. Everything about the book fair reassures me that tomorrow is a better day. Even the one pound entrance fee is ridiculously low, but that’s because (rightfully so) the fair, organized by the General Egyptian Books Organization (GEBO), promotes equal access to all citizens.
The crowds inside counter the stereotypes that Egyptians don’t read, or that only the privately-educated élite are bookworms. Contrary to all that, the fair was filled with Egyptians from all walks of life and it was like music to my ears when I heard a young girl plead with her mother, “Please, please can I buy one more?”
Book fairs are where my desire to fight against consumerism completely fails for I feel every book deserves a home and owner. I even start using friends and relatives as excuses for my purchases, claiming that they must be in dire need of these books and therefore it is I who shall be the provider.
Seriously, having an amazing selection spanning genres from children’s literature to academic publications and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to international publishers all under one roof is not to be missed. The best spot is the back of the fair, where it’s like Elazbakeya with tremendous amounts of books at bargain prices. I have to admit that I was dragging myself out five hours later because my arm muscles could no longer sustain the weight of my book bags, like a scene from Confessions of a Shopaholic.
Twenty-four countries are participating in the fair: 17 Arab and seven non-Arab. Some 750 publishers are attending, including publishers from Turkey (in a non-formal capacity) and Syria, although Syrians have faced difficulty in entering Egypt. Kuwait is the 2014 guest of honor, given the spot, according to the Ahram Online, “for its vital role in publishing and delivering books at low prices.”
The theme of this year’s fair is “Culture and Identity,” following last year’s “Dialogue, Not Clash.” In addition to the stacks upon stacks of books available, the fair features meet and greets with authors, book signings and cultural discussions and lectures.
There’s only one day left for the Cairo International Book Fair. It’s open from 9am-7pm till Feb. 4th. So my advice, cancel your plans tomorrow and head to the fair.
WE SAID THIS: Don’t miss our Q&A with Sherine, who recently launched Rowayat, a literary journal emerging from Egypt.