I’m currently reading Orhan Pamuk’s gorgeous Museum of Innocence (in English). I’ve taken it out from the library, thank goodness, so I was a little stunned when I flipped the book and saw that someone had paid 190LE for the tome. (And then, el hamdulallah, they donated it to a library.)
This whopping 190LE is more than a week’s salary for most Egyptians, and is no small change for me, either. Prices are a big reason why most Egyptians say they’re not interested in books.
Seif Al-Salmawy, formerly of Dar al-Shorouk and now heading up the BQFP project, has argued that Egyptian prices (for Arabic books, not imported Pamuk) are already about as low as they can go. Profit margins for Egyptian publishing houses are already quite a bit thinner, he said, than profit margins in other countries.
I have been pleased to see Dar al-Shorouk’s Fizo books at a reasonable 5LE at my local Alef, and classic Arabic books for grown-ups can be bought for 10 or 15LE. However—even if Egyptians could forgo a few packs of cigarettes and mobile phone cards in favor of books—private book ownership is probably not in itself a solution. Libraries are still in order. Accessible, book-take-out-able libraries.
Oh! But Orhan Pamuk didn’t write Egypt’s most expensive book. That honor goes to Egypt’s antiquities pharaoh, Zahi Hawass.
A Secret Voyage, by Hawass, is selling here in Cairo for 22,000LE. Yes, that is not a typo: 22,000LE. Or, I don’t know, perhaps the Cairo copies are all sold out. Perhaps you’ll have to add a plane ticket to the cost, voyage to London, and get one.
The “limited edition” book was published by Heritage World Press. I don’t think I’ll be getting one.