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Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt.
Diwan: Bookworm’s Delight
Diwan was a revelation when it first opened in 2002 and offered both Arabic and English books in a boutique atmosphere. Warm and inviting, the well-designed shop includes a café in new bookstore fashion, and it’s nice to just linger there even if you’re not in the market to add to your collection of books.
Showcasing new titles, bestsellers and sometimes art in the foyer, the bookstore’s entrance leads to the multimedia section on the left, which is well-stocked with classic Arabic and English DVDs and recent releases. The section also carries a wide selection of both Middle Eastern and world music; including albums by Nasseer Shamma and the Buddha Bar collection.
The right side of the bookstore holds a collection of local and imported specialised stationary such as Moleskine day-planners, Hani Mahfouz Designs notebooks, bookmarks, cards, calendars, photo albums and funky wrapping paper. Their recently opened stationary store, Qirtassiyat, also on 26th of July Street, offers a wider selection.
The centre of the shop holds the classically-styled, dark wooden bookcases and stacks, as well as their café. The book section is visually attractive and makes for a relaxed browsing experience, while two comfortable armchairs offer a quiet reading space.
The store's book collection is quite varied and available in four languages: Arabic, English, French and German, across several genres including Arabic literature, art & design, cookery, history & politics, mind, body & spirit, and reference & dictionaries. Egypt-specific titles are a standout in various formats, especially coffee-table volumes and historical books. English paperbacks start at around 70LE, while hardbacks usually start at 120LE.
The small children and teen’s section is supposedly the largest selection of children’s books in Egypt, though it’s really just a nook in comparison to both Shorouk’s Zamalek and Mohandiseen locations, which have entire rooms dedicated to children’s books.
The café is also tiny and slightly awkwardly centred, but it offers a nice refuge among pensive browsers with homemade carrot cake and decent coffee. A small collection of cooking and diet books are stacked next to the tables, including an adequate selection of BBC Good Food series and a few of Jamie Oliver’s books (ranging between 60LE and 150LE).
Diwan also offers home delivery, book-binding, free special orders, gift-wrapping, gift vouchers, loyalty cards and a used book exchange. The bookstore hosts events at least once a week, including book launches and author signings as well as children’s storytelling. There is even an online book club community– join their mailing list to get all the latest details.
Shops in Cairo are slowly but surely diversifying further into more unique, quirky niches. With the continued surge of Western pop culture flooding the country, when searching for specific products, it's frustrating to find much of the merchandise only being sold online. Kryptonite - previously located on El Sobky Street - is a relatively new store that has opened in the bolstering shopping hub, City Stars, which caters exclusively to fans of comic books and other weird and wonderful collectables. Toxic Green is the colour scheme prevalent throughout the shop, and with the walls covered in a gigantic mural of superheroes and wall-to-floor shelving crammed with products, the motif is hard to miss.
Operated by dedicated fans, the shop carries a diverse range of products, from original comic book publications (175LE-300LE) to 12-16in statues (1,500LE-6,000LE); the latter are either bought 'stock' from suppliers or ‘cast’ from private sellers.
Shipping in issues from comic powerhouses, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Image, there are shelves dedicated to Superman, Captain America, Hellboy, Conan the Barbarian, Batman, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Spiderman, and even a few independent releases. Browsing is encouraged, and customers are invited pick up whatever they find interesting; however, there are some particularly precious products that are kept out of reach.
Customers can also look forward to a few select manga volumes from Naruto, Hellsing, Akira, Full Metal Alchemist and Death Note. Classic newspaper comics, such as Archie can now be bought in volume editions, as can online comic sensation, Penny Arcade. Graphic novels such as the popular 300, are also offered, alongside art books from the anime movie, Vampire Hunter D.
A display case stretched over an entire wall showcases figurines (130LE-190LE), trading figures (50LE-105LE), and busts (400LE-880LE). Characters on display include Batman, Sonic the Hedgehog, Wonder Woman, Majin Buu, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Iron Man, Spiderman, The Joker and Tony Montana. With the best-selling product being action figures (200LE-580LE), particularly Batman, the store has an immense variety on display that range from GI Joes to MAD designed characters.
Besides collectables, Kryptonite also carries novelty t-shirts (190LE) and posters (65LE-110LE) featuring every character thinkable. Customers that are unable to find a specific item are more than welcome to special order products through the store which are then usually delivered within the month - weapons are strictly prohibited.
Kryptonite is an original, one-of-a-kind store offering products that were, up until recently, only bookmarked for those lonely night browsing sessions. This in itself is a massive improvement; add into the mix an awesome sales team and funky décor, and Cairo has found itself a recipe that results in total addiction.