This is what people in UAE are reading
Kinokuniya, UAE's largest bookstore, reopened this week. What's on people's minds besides Elif Shafak?
There are no cute indie bookstores in Dubai. Not bookstores whose USP is just books, anyway. Sure, we have gimmicky little cafes that serve overpriced biscotti and cappuccino in cups with mouths so wide, your coffee turns cold in 40 seconds, and they might have some books. But if you try to find a copy of anything that isn't, say, The Secret, or a calendar of Dubai, forget it.
Which is why Kinokuniya, (UAE's biggest book store, by no means indie) in The Dubai Mall, is central to the lives of bibliophiles in the region. Given that Dubai has exactly one decent bookstore, book lovers had reason to be distraught when it shut shop, if only to spruce up feathers and reopen on Feb 19, in a slightly smaller space. And this time, closer to the Metro Link entrance/exit, the new location a great boon and shorter walk for folks lugging Kino's blue poly bags loaded with books bought, evidence of money blown. Anyone who lives here, including yours truly, cribs about how expensive books are.
Kinokuniya was out of operation for less than a month. When they re-opened doors - in a manner of speaking ie there are no doors - on the same floor of Dubai Mall (where Plug-Ins earlier was), there was a lot of love flowing their way. Relieved bookish people, possibly the most minority tribe in glitzy, shopping-festival obsessed Dubai, flocking to them and tweeting their devotion, complete with cheery 2-D emojis.
Hind Al Balooshi, 27, Emirati, works in the Dubai government, says she buys a book whenever she goes to Kinokuniya, which is every two weeks. Not an e-reader, the last three paper books Hind read were: The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and All is Well, Heal Your Body with Medicine, Affirmations, and Intuition by Louise Hay, Mona Lisa Schulz. And now, chipping away at the notion that Emiratis don't read, Hind is on Ask and It Is Given by
Elif Shafak though, is the most frequently recurring name. A lot of people read her. Her books are positioned prominently, and it's no surprise she's still dominating the best-seller list.
Laiba Ali, a freelance makeup artist, Pakistani, in Dubai for 5 years, says she comes to Kinokuniya once a week, most times just to browse. She's passed on her love to read to even her young daughter, who's not allowed gadgets of any sort. Last book Laiba read? There, again - Elif Shafak. The Seven Daughters of Eve.
Other books still flying off the shelves are Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, Why Men Marry *bleeped-out-word*.
For anyone not from Dubai, and who hasn't had the pleasure, Kinokuniya is a little island of solace. Scratch 'little', it's a giant beacon of comfort. In kind of Trump speak: 'It's great! It's huge! It has a lot of books'. And Rumi is everywhere. The Book of Love, translated by Coleman Barks. My eye also caught the cover of Desperate in Dubai, the same edition going strong, the one with a woman in white-rimmed dark glasses on the cover that's been around for years.
They no longer stock German or Chinese books - the price you pay for a smaller space, but the French aisle was quite the magnet for walk-ins on a weekday morning.
The new place, in my book, is nicer. Not small enough to be cosy (for cosy, go to that sweet second-hand books haven, House of Prose on Jumeirah), but psychologically this venue is easier to traverse. It smells nice. They have woody interiors and no one bugs you when you spend three hours leafing through gorgeous, tempting, unaffordable editions of something or the other. A couple of years ago, I bought a beautiful brown and red cover, deckle-edged copy of Proust's Swann's Way. I still haven't read it, of course. But it was hilarious to me then that the cashier asked if I was sure I wanted to buy it. I asked, why not? Helpfully pointing to the deckle edge in case I missed it, he said, because it's spoilt from here, Ma'am, see?
Salim Hamra, a 22-year-old financial markets analyst from Baghdad (born and raised in Dubai, though) interested in philosophy, history, political science, and psychology. He says, "I love to learn more about how people used to think, how they think today and what causes certain events." Kinokuniya is his favourite bookstore for the range of books: "they never disappoint". He says, "I've just finished reading Paulo Coelho's Manuscript found in Accra and I can say it is my favourite book so far." And he offers this: "I read because it keeps me focused on happiness more than financial gains, and in a way, allows me to distance myself from the world but also stay very close ("if that makes sense").
Next on the reading list for him is Omar Ghobash's Letters to a Young Muslim. How come? He says, "With the challenges we face today and the way the world is evolving, the way we look at the world and teach religion needs to change. I look forward to reading what a diplomat has to say." For the moment though, Kinokuniya's sold out of Ghobash's copies. People are just going to have to return next week. A trip no one sees as a chore.
Nivriti likes books. Of late though, she's been an infidel, favouring Netflix