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By the book
Published in Daily News Egypt on 04 - 01 - 2007


Kotob Khan: innovative culture market in Maadi
"It's my baby, says Karam Youssef, owner of Kotob Khan Bookshop, with pride.
This combination library, publishing house, distributor and coffee shop is the latest addition to Maadi's hip book culture scene.
The cozy bookstore is jam-packed with books, stationary and children's collectables. And the circle is complete with great coffee. You certainly won't lose your way around there, but you're bound to be lost in thought for hours contemplating the books they have on offer, or simply enjoying the display.
When you first walk in its hard not to think of Diwan, the neighborhood bookstore at the heart of Zamalek, which Youssef admits was one of her inspirations.
Youssef is convinced that people are more accepting and open to outlets like of that sort. She feels that there is a big culture movement in place in Cairo where people are trying to express themselves like never before.
"I think there is a strong movement happening in the country. We can see it in the growing number of low budget independent films, alternative cinema, more books and writers. And those who cannot afford to print, use blogs to write what they want, she says.
Kotob Khan offers books in Arabic, English, French and German. Although are in English, Youssef says that Arabic books cannot be disregarded.
"Arabic books are popular among all classes especially fiction, history and politics, she says.
Youssef chooses the books herself, making sure not to limit her collection to bestsellers as she says it doesn't mean these are the "best books. "Some of the greats aren't bestsellers, she says.
The kids section is one of the highlights, shock full of fun pop up books, Harry Potters (in Arabic and English) and classics like Tin Tin.
The DVD corner also features some rare Arabic classics.
Youssef founded the store eight month ago, but wanted it to be more than just a place to buy books.
"The whole idea is to have activities. We don't just sell books, we promote reading, she says.
Every month, Kotob Khan invites an author for a book-reading session followed by a discussion with guests. Youssef focuses on young writers who do not get the media attention and recognition they deserve.
Most of these events are well attended publicized by the website, mailing lists and friends of the bookshop. Finding seats may sometimes be difficult.
Other activities include talks to discuss current events. For example, after Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz passed away, Youssef arranged a lecture by literature professor Bahaa Abdel Meguid. The event was so popular, it was repeated in English after requests from foreign visitors.
Four months ago, they started a workshop for aspiring creative writers. "The purpose is to help people who write as a hobby improve their personal writing skills, says Youssef.
The workshop consists of about ten people and is conducted by writer Yassir Abdel Latif. Kotob Khan will adopt outstanding writers by publishing their work.
So far the publishing house has put out one book titled "Egypt Rediscovered . A few novels are currently in the pipeline to be released within the next six months.
Al Kotob Khan Bookshop3/1 El Lasilky St., New Maadi, Cairo. www.kotobkhan.comTel: (02) 519 4807


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