StoryGraph Saturday: Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller

StoryGraph Saturday is a weekly thing where I randomly choose a book from my To Read pile on StoryGraph and show it off to both remind myself that it’s there and to show it to you, Dear Reader, in case you might find it interesting, too.


Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller
by Nadia Wassef
Memoir
240 pages
Expected publication: October 5, 2021

From The StoryGraph:

The warm and winning story of opening a modern bookstore where there were none, Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller recounts Nadia Wassef’s troubles and triumphs as a founder and manager of Cairo-based Diwan
The streets of Cairo make strange music. The echoing calls to prayer; the raging insults hurled between drivers; the steady crescendo of horns honking; the shouts of street vendors; the television sets and radios blaring from every sidewalk. Nadia Wassef knows this song by heart.


In 2002, with her sister, Hind, and their friend, Nihal, she founded Diwan, a fiercely independent bookstore. They were three young women with no business degrees, no formal training, and nothing to lose. At the time, nothing like Diwan existed in Egypt. Culture was languishing under government mismanagement, and books were considered a luxury, not a necessity. Ten years later, Diwan had become a rousing success, with ten locations, 150 employees, and a fervent fan base.


Frank, fresh, and very funny, Nadia Wassef’s memoir tells the story of this journey. Its eclectic cast of characters features Diwan’s impassioned regulars, like the demanding Dr. Medhat; Samir, the driver with CEO aspirations; meditative and mythical Nihal; silent but deadly Hind; dictatorial and exacting Nadia, a self-proclaimed bitch to work with—and the many people, mostly men, who said Diwan would never work.


Shelf Life is a portrait of a country hurtling toward revolution, a feminist rallying cry, and an unapologetic crash course in running a business under the law of entropy. Above all, it is a celebration of the power of words to bring us home.


A memoir about a group of women who opened a bookstore in Cairo, and against all odds made it successful? Count me in! I love books about books and bookshops, so this sounds like it’s right up my alley. And if the description of “frank, fresh, and very funny” is accurate, then it sounds like Shelf Life will be an absolute delight. I’ve requested it from NetGalley, but I haven’t heard back about it yet. Even if my request is declined, though, I’ll be tracking down a copy of this to give it a try.

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