As with any 'genre', let's say, of shopping in Cairo, buying books – be it for school, for pleasure or to satisfy that irrational love of new-book-smell – comes with its joys and its challenges. The bigger bookshop chains in Egypt do a stand-up job of catering to Cairene needs, but outside of the Diwans, the Alefs and the Shorouks of this world, there are other Cairo bookshops that do just as good a job, but with the extra little kick of having fostered a unique, independent and almost dissident existence, providing an escape for the city's bookworms, where one can find any number of advantages over the big chains – lower prices, obscurer or older titles and a refuge for studying and working being just a few.
It's this indie spirit that makes these bookshops a must for any book lover.
Possibly the most well-known entry to this list, Maadi's Al Khotob Khan has a very loyal following; one that it has despite relocating to Degla from El Laselky Street. Al Kotob Khan is a firm favourite with Maadians not only their book purchasing needs, but also for hanging out, reading, or studying while having a snack. The shop also often hosts open discussions, readings and all manner of literature-geared event.
Another entry from the pit of modern Egyptian suburbia that is Maadi, the Bookspot is a magical place where old books go to find new homes and new lives. The Bookspot offers all the latest books alongside used ones and those that find enjoyment in browsing, touching and inspecting will squeal in delight at the prospect of finding a rare classic or good-as-new university books. Legend has it that some may even have the old notes of and honour roll student – the jackpot.
A gem of a place in Zamalek, thanks primarily to its uniquely calming atmosphere, Sufi has is a delightful triple-whammy combination of a gift shop, a café and a bookshop. Previously a residential apartment, the shop is divided into room that are filled with seating areas and scattered with books. Have you ever been to someone's home and seen something that you've thought about stealing? It's sort of like that with books – but under no circumstance should you steal anything – book karma is bigger than us. Sufi also hosts occasional events, including live music performances.
One of the newer bookshops on this list, Maktoob Bookstore in Zamalek is a library as much as it is a shop and offers book loans via memberships – a monthly fee of 180LE will afford you the luxury of borrowing ten books overall, two at a time. But Maktoob also functions as a used bookshop, with prices starting at a mindboggling 2.50LE – yes, 250LE. If you reach into the nearest furniture crevasse as you read this, you'll probably find the money for your next purchase there. You can also grab a cup of coffee and a nibble, but why would you when there are 2.50LE books around you? Get digging.
Labelled as a 'heaven for arts and crafters' by a Cairo 360 review, Volume 1 has branches in Maadi – you guys have everything and it's not fair – and Mohandiseen. The shop excels in Arabic books, as well as arts and crafts supplies, and the selection of local, regional and international newspapers and magazines is, in no uncertain terms, exhilarating – yes, we get that excited about the written word, in all of its glorious forms. Don't judge. Meanwhile, arts and crafters certainly really will find everything and anything they need, though some prices are higher than usual.
Do people in Maadi just read more? Here we have another bookshop in Maadi – in Maadi Grand Mall to be precise. Adam Bookshop is worth a mention for its particular value to students and anyone else on some sort of path of education; multilingual textbooks, guides and dictionaries are available. As with any good bookshops, the usual range of knickknacks and random titbits are just as deliciously pleasing, with meditation CDs, book related bric-a-brac and other novel items complimenting the shops through collection of modern and classic literature.
Happy shopping! Then, happy reading!