'Tis the season for Christmas readings

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 21 Dec 2010

The book market in Egypt picks up during the Christmas/New Year season, as shoppers - both Christians and those who just like to celebrate - exchange gifts

(photo : Ahram Online)

"I am looking for a cook book that has nice recipes for diabetics," said 12-year-old Nour to the sales assistant at Diwan bookstores' Heliopolis branch.

She looked at the suggested book and said: "Yes. I think he would like this one. Could I have it in Christmas wrapping please?"

Nour, of course, does not, herself, cook. Nor will she try to learn how to from the book she just bought. It is a gift, she says, for her French language teacher. Monseiur Ibrahim is a diabetic and declines the sweets he is offered during their private lesson at her house. Thus she chose this gift for him.

Nour is picking buying gifts for all her teachers, men and women alike, because, according to her mother Lyla, it has become tradition.

Layla explains that the male teachers in Nour's school – as in several other language schools in Egypt – have been aggravated by the fact that women teachers receive gifts from students on mother's days while the men get nothing. And so began the idea of giving Christmas-New Year gifts to everybody.

Karam Youssef, owner of the Maadi Koutob Khan Bookstore, says this holiday season offers an opportunity for the Egyptian book market to pick up sales.

While the Western Christmas is essentially celebrated by the quarter million Egyptian Catholics and the Western expatriate community living in Egypt, Youssef insists that many upper class Egyptian, "who somehow relate to the idea of exchanging gifts for the New Year rather than Christmas," are nowadays also potential consumers for holiday season gifts, including books.

"But it is a certain type of books that people likes to buy this season," Youssef explains.

According to Nadia Wassef, the co-owner and director of Diwan, coffee table and photography books sell well during the season.

"People are looking to buy gifts and therefore they mostly want to buy a book with fancy binding or a box-set collection," Youssef suggested.

The three-volume box-set English translation of Leo Tolostoy's "War and Peace" and "The Minarets of Cairo" along with photography books of Pharaonic Egypt are attracting the Kutob Khan clients who are searching for Christmas gifts. Meanwhile, "Vintage Egypt" and "Modern Egyptian Art – 1910-2003" are catching the attention of Diwan's Christmas shoppers.

But glossy books are not the only option customers opt for. According to Hind Wassef, also a co-owner and director of Diwan, some people still choose fiction and self-help books as gifts.

At the many Diwan stores already decorated for Christmas, the Wassefs offer Christmas ideas for buyers. For example, they suggest titles to readers based on the bestselling books of the year.


"If you liked 'Tourab El-Mass' (Diamonds Dust), you will like 'Fatat Al-Halwa,' (The sweets girl)" suggests a little note attached to copies of the latter, all wrapped nicely with red ribbons. The copies are placed on a table at the entrance of the Heliopolis store.


"I think there are some very good titles that did not have much luck with sales, and they deserve to be given more attention," said Hind Wassef.

According to Mona Amer of the Mohandssine branch of Dar Al-Shorouk, some of the year's bestsellers also end up on the holiday season's shopping lists.

Among those are John Gray's series on Mars and Venus. And while "Men from Mars and Women from Venus" is still doing very well, subsequent titles, including "Mars and Venus on a date" and "Why Mars and Venus collide," are also quite successful. Similarly, "Why men love bitches" and "Whey men marry bitches" by Sherry Argov also continue to attract buyers.

Apart from the individuals exchange of gifts there is a small but growing tendency among some companies, say bookstore owners and managers, to send coffee table books as New Year's gifts.

According to Amer, the idea of getting books as gifts is gaining a wider appeal in the Egyptian market, and not just during this holiday season: people buy books as birthday gifts (Dar Al-Shorouk's children collection is doing very well in this respect) and some buy them as farewell gifts.




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