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Maadi, Cairo, Egypt.
Volume 1: Get Crafty
This venue is primarily recognized as a book store, but the arts and crafts, stationary and gift section certainly makes a name for itself. The best part of the upper level bookstore is the magazine and newspaper section, where nearly every regional English and Arabic publication can be found. There is also an ample travel section where you can pick up guides for visiting Europe, Asia, or destinations closer to home. The graphic novel section is a bit shabby, housing mostly paperbacks Archie comics from the early nineties. Also available is a nice assortment of gift-appropriate coffee table books, and a children’s section for toddlers to grade-schoolers.
Downstairs you can find everything from paints, pastels, glue sticks and glitter to rolls of wrapping paper and bits and bobs to keep those art projects interesting. Shopping for gift cards? Need to add a bit of pizzazz to that last minute birthday card? Volume 1 is the go-to place for tinseling things up.
Also a place for professionals, Volume 1 sells calendar diaries, planners and address books in more varieties than you may know what to do with. Try the gift wrapping section as it has everything from silk bags to creative gift labels.
There's no shortage of bookshops in Cairo, and Zamalek is home to many book-filled nooks and crannies. Some of these shops moonlight as venues for intimate concerts or regularly host speakers and authors. Yet Livres De France sets itself apart from local rivals by boasting a substantial portion of its stock, from law texts to children’s books, in French. Located on the first floor of a building on Brazil Street across from the Spanish Embassy, you will have to spot a golden placard on the building’s wall to locate this small Francophile haven.
The bookshop takes up two large rooms of an apartment, but sliding bookshelves have allowed it to amass a greater stock than initially meets the eye. We first made our way to the English section, although we quickly found that English and French books were interspersed through a few of the shelves. In fact, we had a little difficulty orienting ourselves, as different sections or genres were not clearly separated or labelled.
Several shelves were dedicated to regional books focusing on the Middle East and covered anything and everything from tourism and art to Egyptian literature. For those with an interest in the region, whether in English or French, this shop will certainly provide you with a wide array of literature.
Livres De France also hosts a substantial number of Naguib Mahfouz’s translated works in French. We were, however, disappointed to find that a majority of the books were plastic-wrapped and we were unable to indulge in any skimming. After roaming over to the sale section, we spotted a hard-back cover of Alaa El Aswany’s Chicago, on sale for 80LE compared to 75LE for a paperback copy at neighbouring bookshops.
A vast assortment of children’s books was available in French, ranging from comics and story books to atlases and aviation. English Harry Potter books went for around 75LE each, while their French counterparts were quite a bit more expensive at 250LE. Another shelf was devoted to tutorial books in French which covered chemistry, grammar, math and physics, among other topics. Flanking the children’s books was a shelf devoted to cookbooks, predominantly in French, and we spotted a tagine cookbook complete with a tagine set.
We were perhaps most excited to rummage through their selection of posters and prints. Arabic calligraphy prints started at 60LE and beautiful coloured prints of plants and fruits by Pierre-Joseph Redoute went for 35LE. Old maps of Egypt dating to the 1500s and posters of old stamps were also available.
On the other side of the room, various Oriental prints were going for 40LE, while beautiful printed Islamic geometric patterns went up to 280LE. A collection of decorated notebooks were on display at the shop’s entrance.
On the balcony, a table and chairs allows for a respite while enjoying a breeze overlooking a greener area of Zamalek. Although the abundance of plastic-wrap left us feeling that the place was a bit inaccessible, we were nonetheless impressed by the great collection of books focused on the Middle East. However, for those seeking English-language books across a variety of topics, this may not be the place to go.