Dubai Diaries: Let's support independent bookshops
Such stores add life and colour to our city.
On a recent evening stroll through the streets of Karama with a friend, I decided to drop into one of my favourite secondhand bookstores, Archies Bookshop.
I love browsing and sometimes picking up reasonably priced titles from this old school shop that charms you the moment you enter. Except for the computer monitor used by the saleslady/librarian and the occasional buzz of visitors’ phones, everything about that double-storey shop makes you feel like you have stepped back in time to a quieter, simpler existence, when books played a much bigger part in our lives than they do now.
I glanced at some of the shelves and spotted Income Tax guides from decades ago, encyclopedias from the ‘80s, and a Thesaurus. There were also plenty of dictionaries. I couldn’t help reminiscing about how we would use such books as reference guides, way before Google, Wikipedia and information at a single click would become a way of life.
I remembered similar books lining the shelves of our school library in Dubai and the excitement of looking up a new word or a query, while thumbing through them. I snapped out of my reverie at the voice of a little girl who had just entered the store with her mother.
I couldn’t help wondering if this child - or indeed anyone in her age group - would ever pick up a heavy reference book, or dictionary, even out of curiosity, as I moved on to another part of the shop. While my friend browsed the ‘chick-lit’ section, I was entranced by the classics, the Enid Blytons, and other stories I’d read as a child.
Old and new editions of Blyton’s books took up a good portion of the children’s section and I was pleased to see the little girl mentioned earlier pick up a copy of a Famous Five book. It amazes me how this series of simple tales about four children and a dog set in mid-twentieth century England (the first book, Five on a Treasure Island, was published in 1942), still had the power, with its local setting yet universal themes of childhood, friendship and adventure, to continue to draw readers from newer generations.
As I continued to muse on the timeless appeal of Blyton’s stories, I walked up a narrow set of steps to the first floor of the shop where hundreds of books covering a wide range of genres, arranged author-wise, waited to be discovered. Minutes turned into an hour as I lost myself amidst a whiff of history, magic, romance, mystery and more, and upon glancing at my watch, reluctantly made my way downstairs.
As we approached the saleslady to settle our bill, she passed over two visiting cards and requested us to share them with our friends and acquaintances. Now this was food for thought - I don’t remember, in all my previous visits, getting a request like this; I’d always assumed hundreds of avid readers flocked to this place. Had things changed? Let’s do all we can, in these troubled times, to support such independent bookstores which add life and colour to our city.