Egyptian publishing is going through a difficult period:
There are the financial difficulties that have followed in the wake of the sharp rise in consumer prices; the attendant new difficulties in selling books; and there are the tightening of restrictions on what can and can’t be published, as evidenced by 15-day detention renewals for Abdel Khalek Farouk, author of the forthcoming Is Egypt Really a Poor Country?, and Ibrahim al-Khateeb, owner of Al-Ittihad Printing Press, which was publishing the books. There are also publishers who have been warned not to bring out other forthcoming books.
In amongst all this, bestsellers persist. There are, for instance, strikingly good sales for «فن اللامبالاة», the Arabic translation of Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
It was July 5 when the Egyptian football superhero tweeted a photo of himself reading the book, and, according to Akhbar al-Yom, sales have not slackened since.
Writer Amro Ali says that he observed the same this summer in Alexandria:
The bookseller at this store in #Alexandria tells me since @MoSalah tweeted a photo of himself reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by @IAmMarkManson, sales of the book have quadrupled. #Egypt pic.twitter.com/paVGBGmtJL
— Amro Ali (@_amroali) August 12, 2018
Clearly no UNESCO initiative could ever have the impact of a Mo Salah book-a-month club. So, why not, five suggestions to kick things off:
1. Hadil Ghoneim’s كابتن شيرين (Captain Shireen). This sweet, inspiring, girls-can picture book is for the “Makka and Mo” reading club. I saw this when in a Diwan books last week, and not only does it feature football, there is a wall of Mo Salah posters in Captain Shireen’s bedroom. If that’s too self-referential, then the “Makka and Mo” book club could feature a Farhana (Rania Hussein Amin) or Fizo (Walid Taher) book for the first round. More children’s titles, of course, can be found on ArabKidLitNow!
2. Moemen Helmy’sعنترة (Antarah), drawn by Ashraf Gouri. As Ahmed al-Mahdi wrote in his review, earlier posted on ArabLit, “I was so happy to find an extraordinary comic book that presents an epic character from Arab history, the character of Antarah ibn Shaddad, the warrior poet.”
Also, comix are an excellent gateway for newer readers.
Or, if Mo Salah wanted to support only Egyptian-produced comix — which I would surely understand — then why not Dina Mohamed’s award-winning شبيك لبيك or the graphic-novel adaptation of Mohamed al-Bisatie’s الخالدية?
3. Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s يوتوبيا (Utopia). This popular near-future science-fiction thriller by the popular, and recently deceased, Ahmed Khaled Towfik, will also be a crowd-pleaser.
Another possibility would be Towfik’s more recent and best-selling في ممر الفئران, another near-future parable about human rights.
4. Radwa Ashour’s ثلاثية غرناطة (Granada Trilogy). Many contemporary page-turners ( كل هذا الهراء by Ezzedine Choukri Fishere, for example) might put more of a political spotlight on the Mo Salah book club than we want, so going back to the fifteenth century with this award-winningest of classics will be an excellent choice.
5. Stephen Hawking’s تاريخ موجز للزمان, translated by Mustafa Ibrahim Fahmy. Hawking’s most well-known book. Or, alternatively, the late author’s Brief Answers to the Big Questions is also forthcoming in translation from Dar al-Tanweer in January 2019.