What’s a beach book? Last summer, we debated beach bookery on Bulaq, without coming to any particular conclusion:
This year, I’ve focused on short stories, humor, travel, a bit of sex, and fast-paced romance. Eight are 2019 releases, while two — Pearls on a Branch and La Ahad Yarthy Li Qitat al-Madina — came out last year.
Book of Cairo, ed. Raph Cormack
Ten fresh, loud, city-focused stories by contemporary Egyptian writers. Beachy highlights include the comic-noir short story “Talk,” by Mohammed Kheir, tr. Kareem James Abu-Zeid, which starts when a physician’s reputation is destroyed when the media begins reporting “Doctor Forgets Surgical Scissors in Patient’s Stomach” and Ahmed Naji’s sexy-sweet “Siniora,” translated by Elisabeth Jaquette in a language that re-crafts the story’s sharp longing.
Thirteen Months of Sunrise, by Rania Mamoun, tr. Elisabeth Jacquette
For your bus ride to the beach (if you can read on the bus without getting nauseous): “Cities and Other Cities,” a bus journey that’s both tender and satiric. You can also take this Thirteen Months-themed literary playlist to the beach.
Sudfat Jaria (An Ongoing Coincidence), by Najwa Binshatwan
Thirty short stories set in and around Libya full of relentless, surreal satire that is something like a fusion of folklore, satire, and Monty Pythonesque mischief. For beach life, Poseidon makes an appearance in “أولياء الله الطيارون.”
La Ahad Yarthy Li Qitat al-Madina (Nobody Mourns the City’s Cats), by Muhammad El-Hajj
The Quarter, by Naguib Mahfouz, tr. Roger Allen
Admittedly, this is more Sufi than sexy, but your beach time can be meditative as well. It’s not out until September in the US, by which time your beach might be a little chilly, but this collection of short, interlinked, Sufi-koan-like narratives is set for a July release in the UK.
Pearls on a Branch: Tales From the Arab World Told by Women, collected by Najla Jraissaty Khoury, tr. Inea Bushnaq
As a young reader, one of my most treasured books was Arab Folktales, ed. and translated Inea Bushnaq. I read the stories over and over, in love with the rhythm of the language. This collection of women-focused oral stories sits perfectly at that sweet spot of folktales for adults: the sort the make us remember why we fell in love with reading.
Sentence to Hope: a Sa’dallah Wannous Reader, ed. and tr. Robert Myers and Nada Saab
These all make enjoyable theatre of the mind, staged inside your head (in any setting of your choice), although perhaps the beachiest is “The Adventure of the Head of Mamluk Jabir.”
All That I Want to Forget, Bothayna al-Essa, tr. Michelle Henjum
For those who like romance at the beach, al-Essa’s All That I Want to Forget is in the tradition of sharply observed politico-feminist romance like Latifa al-Zayyat’s The Open Door (which you can also read on the beach in Marilyn Booth’s translation).
End-of-summer bonus: Short essays
Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World, ed. Zahra Hankir
This book, set for an early August release, brings together essays by Arab women journalists — and former journalists — writing at the intersection of conflict journalism and life. The genre of “writing about conflict reporting” is often dominated by distance, privilege, and machismo. These essays help us re-see reporters’ lives, the places they’re reporting on, and the act of reporting.