Take the Summer Reading Challenge and Win These ‘Beach Reads’

Take the challenge!

Simply promise me (below) that you’ll read one of the books on the “top 105” list (CLICK THE LINK FOR THE LIST) either in Arabic or in translation this summer. I will not check up on you, although if you would like to contribute a review, I’d be grateful.

You (might) win these beach reads!

1) Hisham Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance, published in spring 2011. Matar’s early interest in poetry is evident in the care he gives each sentence, which makes the book a (deceptively) easy read. Plus, key scenes take place at the sea.

2) Waguih Ghali’s Beer in the Snooker Club. Would you read it at the sea? (In a tree? With a bee?) This book, re-released in December 2010, can be read anywhere.

3) Samuel Shimon’s An Iraqi in Paris. Not only will this book be an enjoyable beach read, but (bonus!) it also won’t help you learn about Iraq.

If you already have them…

…and I draw your name on August 25, 2011, then choose substitutes from among these excellent non-beach reads out this summer: Mahmoud Darwish’s In the Presence of Absence, trans. Sinan Antoon; Anouar Benmalek’s Abduction; Elias Khoury’s As Though She Were Sleeping, trans. Humphrey Davies.

Further rules:

If you’re a member of my family or have had tea with me, blah blah blah, you are not eligible.


  1. You have read all 105!!

  2. I’ve just read some of them ๐Ÿ˜‰ The last one of the list was ‘Gate of the Sun’, which I read some months ago. I have a fond memory of reading ‘Cairo Trilogy’ and ‘Return of the Spirit’. I really enjoyed them, they are so vivid! I still feel as if I had ever met Kamal and Muhsin…

  3. I had hoped to participate last year, but had a huge licensing exam to study for and that deterred me. This year, I’m determined to read at least one book, maybe two.

  4. Great list! I’ve recently had a splurge at Amazon and Foyles, and now have Arabic and English copies on my shelf of: The Long Way Back, No One Sleeps in Alexandria, The Lamp of Umm Hashim, For Bread Alone, Men in the Sun, and The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist. Hope I’ll manage one or two in Arabic, but will no doubt be lazy with the others…

  5. I’ll read Bahaa Taher in Swedish translation, and try to get hold of Latifa al-Zayat’s “The open Door” in either Swedish or English. Thanks for a great blog!

  6. That works, too! I would love to hear what you think of how they hold up in Swedish.

  7. Recently read the Cairo Trilogy. I’m currently reading Cheapest Nights, and I intend to read both Gate of the Sun and Cities of Salt over the summer.

  8. Well, Tommy, you are definitely in.

  9. I’m planning on finally, finally tackling Cities of Salt this summer, plus I just got For Bread Alone in the mail. It’s not on the list, but I’m a third of the way through Iraqi fi paris and I’d love to finish it and make it my first cover-to-cover read the whole thing Arabic novel.

  10. Well, if For Bread Alone isn’t on this list, it should be. We’ll make it #106 and say that it is. Mabrouk on your first cover-to-cover Arabic novel!

  11. For Bread Alone is on the list (26). What is often forgotten or left out is the next part to this book ‘Streetwise’ (in French ‘Le temps des erreurs’) and is equally beautiful, heart breaking, gut wrenching and poetic. And of course there is ‘In Tangier’, a sort of note book Choukri kept about his encounters with foreign writers who came to visit or settle in Tangier, and which presents how Paul Bowles, his translator, totally ripped him off, him and the other Arab writers whose books he translated.

  12. Thanks Nadia… Well, I’ll be very liberal about this, for sure. Any of the Choukri titles count. Reading Paul Bowles’ fiction, on the other hand, will get you nothing…at least not from me…

  13. As it is, I’ve already read three books this year directly as a result of your outstanding blog. But I’m deflated and appalled that I’ve only read two books of the 105 on the list (Season of Migration and the Choukri book). I could try to defend that record by noting that I’ve read a couple of other books by authors who made the list, and have on my shelves (unread) four more of the listed books, but it’s really time to start making amends. Sign me up.

  14. Well, I’m sorry to make anyone feel deflated and appalled, but in any case you’re in!

  15. I pledge to read #24, Seasons of Migration to the North, and #105, Cities of Salt. When is the deadline? I’d love to contribute a review, though these two books have been reviewed already many times.

  16. Wonderful! The deadline is August 25, 2011. Since the books have been much-reviewed, there’s no need for a synopsis, of course. But an impressionistic or conversational or poetic or other account of how you interacted with the books certainly would be welcome!

  17. The only works I’ve read from this list is Mahfouz’s The Cairo Trilogy. I’d like to take on this challenge by reading The Story of Zahra. Many titles on the list interested me, but this one seems to be an easy one for me to obtain. It’s a plus that you enjoyed reading it!

  18. I love The Story of Zahra. I hope you do, too!

  19. Wonderful challenge. I will read The Story of Zahra. Thanks!

  20. great idea. As readers we need to read more and more about other places. I would look through the list and if some of the books are available to me, I would participate. Thanks for this interesting challenge that challenges us to read wide and beyond.

  21. I’m not sure how I could have missed this, but I’m signing up even if I’ll be too hungry to read in Ramadhan! ๐Ÿ™‚ I have the following book list with me:
    The Dark side of love by Rafik Schami
    Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury
    Sharon and my Mother-in-law by Suad Amiry

    Thanks for hosting this!

    1. Ah, but reading can be your sustenance! ๐Ÿ™‚

      You’ll have to let me know about “Sharon and My Mother-in-law.” I haven’t read that one, although “Nothing to Lose But Your Life” was very funny, Suad Amiry has great comic timing.

  22. Oh I definitely want to read some from this list. I will be searching for a few more of these and if I don’t find any I’ll reread Season of Migration to the North.

  23. I’ll be reading The Cairo Trilogy, since it’s the only one I’ve found at my local library. But I’m really excited about reading more from this list! So far, I’ve only read Arabic books assigned for a class I took last semester (Arab Women Novelists)–In the Eye of the Sun, Pillars of Salt, Balcony over the Fakihani, A Woman of Five Seasons and Dreams of Trespass– and I Saw Ramallah (trans. by Soueif). My goal this summer is to read at least 5 from the list (if I can find them! ๐Ÿ™‚ )

    1. Five, that’s great! If you’re planning to share your impressions on your blog, please let me know.

  24. I read Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North just a month ago; I also recently read his The Wedding of Zein and other stories. I had not realized that so few of these important authors have been translated into English, it is shocking. I am currently reading The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine, written in English and not on the list, but a lot of fun.

  25. I’m in! Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury. Fantastic challenge!

    1. Awesome. I look forward to seeing what you think of it (on your blog, I assume?)

  26. I’ll give this a go! I am disappointed that I’m having trouble finding these titles at my library. I put a hold in for “Season of Migration to the North.” It looks like a popular choice.

    1. MJ,

      You get extra credit if you print out the list for your public library and leave it with them at the info. desk. And I look forward to hearing what you think of ‘Season of Migration’!

      1. Extra credit: earned (although response was tepid)
        Reaction posted: on the blog

  27. Count me in. I have a copy of Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury – no more excuse to have it sit at my shelf unread.

    1. Great!

  28. Read “Men in the Sun”, currently figuring out what to tackle in Arabic for August and translating Saadallah Wannous’ short play “Your Majesty, the elephant…”

  29. I plan to finish the Cairo Trilogy ( I’ve only read Palace Walk), but I love Mahfouz. I have a theory that after he was nearly murdered, his fiction took a new turn and became more surreal and experimental( you can see it in the two short story collections too- Seventh Heaven and the other one.

    And I HIGHLY recommend The Hedgehog And Other Stories by Zakaria Tamer (AUC- the same stories as in The Tigers On The Tenth Day but with the addition of a small nouvella- the lead title. (and also his book with Garnet Publishers- Breaking Knees).

    If anyone has trouble getting books, go to ABEBOOKS. COM. It’s a used book website. I’ve found many Arab authors on this site. And its relatively inexxpensive.

    1. It’s a shame that AUC Press books can be difficult to get outside Egypt. Or maybe with greater availability of books online that’s no longer the case? I hope.

  30. I’ve read The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist, Zayni Barakat, and The Seven Days of Man this summer! They were all great, but it was The 7 Days that moved me most.

    Thanks for the challenge!

    1. Great! And if you want to share your impression of 7 Days, let me know!

      1. Share where? Right here? I’ll share anywhere–always love to gush about good books, especially the under-read (which I think this one is, in English).

  31. Just read Hanan Al-Shaykh’s riveting “The Story of Zahra” – certainly an unforgettable book, and one that I’m eagerly recommending. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to write about it (this summer has been challenging in terms of trying to find time for anything, even reading), but I’ll let you know if I do. And I’m glad to see that so many of your readers have chosen to read “Season of Migration.” I read it earlier this year, partly thanks to your blog, and now can’t help but think of a sharp, clean line running through my lifetime of reading between what I read before ‘Season of Migration’ and everything since.

    1. Surely there’s an essay in the sharp, clean line running through your lifetime of reading… Although I understand busyness, of course!

  32. One other question – I’m curious as to why Tahar Ben Jelloun didn’t make the list. What’s his reputation? I read a couple of his novels in French years ago, “L’Enfant de Sable” and “La Nuit Sacree” and never forget them. But I understand that the English translations leave something to be desired, so perhaps that’s the reason? Or are the novels just not as good as I remember them? Any thoughts?

    1. Scott W,

      Oh, the only reason Tahar Ben Jelloun wouldn’t have made this list is that he’s a Francophone author, and these are only authors who write in Arabic. A number of Francophone (and even some Anglophone, such as the unforgettable Beer in the Snooker Club) titles would’ve bumped some of the lesser-known books off the list had they been considering all Arab authors vs. just those who write in Arabic.

  33. Great idea! I’ve only read Zayni Barakat so far, but hope to read the al-Faqih trilogy and Season of Migration over the next month (also L’enfant de Sable if I get time… it’s been on my shelf for a while now) ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Wonderful to hear! Be sure to write in if you’ve got impressions of the books to share… M.

  34. This is great, I am loving the list and hope to be able to find many of the books! I will start with Salwa Bakr A Man from Bashmour as I know it’s in the library! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Wonderful! Look forward to hearing your thoughts on al-Bashmouri…

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