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Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller

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The streets of Cairo make strange music. The echoing calls to prayer; the raging insults hurled between drivers; the steady crescendo of horns honking; the shouts of street vendors; the television sets and radios blaring from every sidewalk. Nadia Wassef knows this song by heart. In 2002, with her sister, Hind, and their friend, Nihal, she founded Diwan, a fiercely independ The streets of Cairo make strange music. The echoing calls to prayer; the raging insults hurled between drivers; the steady crescendo of horns honking; the shouts of street vendors; the television sets and radios blaring from every sidewalk. Nadia Wassef knows this song by heart. In 2002, with her sister, Hind, and their friend, Nihal, she founded Diwan, a fiercely independent bookstore. They were three young women with no business degrees, no formal training, and nothing to lose. At the time, nothing like Diwan existed in Egypt. Culture was languishing under government mismanagement, and books were considered a luxury, not a necessity. Ten years later, Diwan had become a rousing success, with ten locations, 150 employees, and a fervent fan base. Frank, fresh, and very funny, Nadia Wassef's memoir tells the story of this journey. Its eclectic cast of characters features Diwan's impassioned regulars, like the demanding Dr. Medhat; Samir, the driver with CEO aspirations; meditative and mythical Nihal; silent but deadly Hind; dictatorial and exacting Nadia, a self-proclaimed bitch to work with--and the many people, mostly men, who said Diwan would never work. Shelf Life is a portrait of a country hurtling toward revolution, a feminist rallying cry, and an unapologetic crash course in running a business under the law of entropy. Above all, it is a celebration of the power of words to bring us home.


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The streets of Cairo make strange music. The echoing calls to prayer; the raging insults hurled between drivers; the steady crescendo of horns honking; the shouts of street vendors; the television sets and radios blaring from every sidewalk. Nadia Wassef knows this song by heart. In 2002, with her sister, Hind, and their friend, Nihal, she founded Diwan, a fiercely independ The streets of Cairo make strange music. The echoing calls to prayer; the raging insults hurled between drivers; the steady crescendo of horns honking; the shouts of street vendors; the television sets and radios blaring from every sidewalk. Nadia Wassef knows this song by heart. In 2002, with her sister, Hind, and their friend, Nihal, she founded Diwan, a fiercely independent bookstore. They were three young women with no business degrees, no formal training, and nothing to lose. At the time, nothing like Diwan existed in Egypt. Culture was languishing under government mismanagement, and books were considered a luxury, not a necessity. Ten years later, Diwan had become a rousing success, with ten locations, 150 employees, and a fervent fan base. Frank, fresh, and very funny, Nadia Wassef's memoir tells the story of this journey. Its eclectic cast of characters features Diwan's impassioned regulars, like the demanding Dr. Medhat; Samir, the driver with CEO aspirations; meditative and mythical Nihal; silent but deadly Hind; dictatorial and exacting Nadia, a self-proclaimed bitch to work with--and the many people, mostly men, who said Diwan would never work. Shelf Life is a portrait of a country hurtling toward revolution, a feminist rallying cry, and an unapologetic crash course in running a business under the law of entropy. Above all, it is a celebration of the power of words to bring us home.

30 review for Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nada Elshabrawy

    Inspiring, funny and beautiful.

  2. 5 out of 5

    josie

    girlbossed a little too close to the sun for me

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    For three women to open an independent bookstore/cafe in downtown Cairo, Egypt, two decades ago was a groundbreaker to some, a novelty to others, but a passion to the three booksellers. Diwan, or "Connect," in English, quickly became an oasis of learning and camaraderie in a thirsty city, but the early years were fraught with perils: offending the wrong customer, being cheated by an unscrupulous employee or purchase partner, misjudging the public appetite for classics or current trends, grapplin For three women to open an independent bookstore/cafe in downtown Cairo, Egypt, two decades ago was a groundbreaker to some, a novelty to others, but a passion to the three booksellers. Diwan, or "Connect," in English, quickly became an oasis of learning and camaraderie in a thirsty city, but the early years were fraught with perils: offending the wrong customer, being cheated by an unscrupulous employee or purchase partner, misjudging the public appetite for classics or current trends, grappling with sexism, battling amongst themselves over which titles deserved the most privileged display spots--and on and on. But co-owners Ms. Wassef, her sister Hind, and their friend Nihal managed through growing pain after growing pain, political shift after political shift, to endure, thrive, and elevate their fellow citizens with a sanctuary of sanity, understanding, and rapprochement. The fact that their one bookstore gave birth to nine offshoots speaks (pardon the pun) volumes about the maturing of these ladies' business acumen. If this book sounds at all high-handed and formulaic, it is anything but, thanks to Ms. Wassef's keen and often funny observations about her co-workers, customers, and family members, as well as constant reminders of her deeply felt tug-of-war between motherhood, marriage, and the business. Here, we are transported to an entrancingly colorful refuge, and we come out the better for it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Shelby

    In 2002, with her friend and sister, Nadia Wassef opened Cairo's first female-owned bookstore chain, Diwan, which is not dissimilar to America's Barnes & Noble. Wassef is proud of this feat, and rightfully so — she and her business partners carved out a Third Space for women in Egypt's traditional patriarchy and revolutionary society. But her narration is often crass, self-righteous, and demeaning to her staff and colleagues (whom she surveilled), distracting the reader from the store's external In 2002, with her friend and sister, Nadia Wassef opened Cairo's first female-owned bookstore chain, Diwan, which is not dissimilar to America's Barnes & Noble. Wassef is proud of this feat, and rightfully so — she and her business partners carved out a Third Space for women in Egypt's traditional patriarchy and revolutionary society. But her narration is often crass, self-righteous, and demeaning to her staff and colleagues (whom she surveilled), distracting the reader from the store's external success. tl;dr: i'm glad i didn't work there

  5. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I was excited to get a glimpse of a bookseller’s life, especially a woman in religiously conservative nation. Wassef was co-owner of Diwan in Cairo and her personal memoir is written in the context of her bookstores. “The truth is that Diwan isn’t a business. She’s a person and this is her story.” The story of both Wassef and Diwan is presented anecdotally, each chapter representing a different section of the shop. She discusses Egyptian classical cannon, which I enjoyed, and I never before thou I was excited to get a glimpse of a bookseller’s life, especially a woman in religiously conservative nation. Wassef was co-owner of Diwan in Cairo and her personal memoir is written in the context of her bookstores. “The truth is that Diwan isn’t a business. She’s a person and this is her story.” The story of both Wassef and Diwan is presented anecdotally, each chapter representing a different section of the shop. She discusses Egyptian classical cannon, which I enjoyed, and I never before thought of Egypt in terms of pre-Islamic (Pharaonist) versus post-Islamification, but now I totally understand the distinction. In some ways, Wassef is relatable. I admire her tenacity, appreciate her perfectionism, and share her disdain for self-help books. She acknowledges her difficult personality, but her abrasiveness isn’t endearing. Cursing by no means offends me, but she seemed to drop f-bombs purely for shock value, as if to say, See, I’m a tough effing chick. Besides giving me a glimpse into her personal life, the chapter Pregnancy and Parenting did nothing for me. The logistics and challenges of running the stores were interesting, but the personal dynamics were not. Overall, I wasn’t captivated enough by Nadia’s narrative to eagerly resume reading her book every day. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gabriela Francisco

    "In an effort to suppress dissent, each political regime had taken control of cultural output... Starting a bookstore at this moment of cultural atrophy seemed impossible - and utterly necessary... Diwan was conceived as a reaction to a world that had stopped caring about the written word... She has nobler ideas than her surroundings permit... She brings people and ideas together." Thus began the true story of a woman and her two female friends, and how they put up an ideal bookstore in a male-do "In an effort to suppress dissent, each political regime had taken control of cultural output... Starting a bookstore at this moment of cultural atrophy seemed impossible - and utterly necessary... Diwan was conceived as a reaction to a world that had stopped caring about the written word... She has nobler ideas than her surroundings permit... She brings people and ideas together." Thus began the true story of a woman and her two female friends, and how they put up an ideal bookstore in a male-dominated Cairo. It is about to turn 20 years old in a few months, and can be found online here: https://diwanegypt.com/ Enjoyed this book (an early Christmas gift from Le Twinnie) so much! The four-star rating is because I think this has a target audience: a female book lover who holds administrative duties professionally. Am unsure if men would appreciate the writer's voice: colorfully cursing in every other page, declaring her opinions so decidedly while mercilessly painting an unflattering picture of a few vile people she encountered. Who knew that a bookstore could be so exciting?! Part of what made this book so enjoyable was the author's sense of time and place. I streamed Umm Kulthum on Spotify because Wassef said she alternated her music with George Gershwin's in her bookstore. It was inevitable, I suppose, for a bookseller to recommend her favorite reads, and thus I emerge at the end of the book having added more than a dozen "must-save-up-for" titles in my ever growing Wish list. It's good to have book dreams. Haha. I could relate to so much in the book: a very frank description of the divide between the two Egypts (separated by educational background and socioeconomic class) seemed almost the same as the situation in Manila, as well as the unique approach to combat inefficient government bureaucracy (appreciation boxes of candy, anyone?). It's the story of idealists living in a non-ideal environment, and I suppose every reader can relate to this. Readers know that the status quo shouldn't be this way, that there were better times, that we can forge better days ahead. That we are capable of much more than the mediocrity that surrounds us. I read this book at a time when book selections in Philippine libraries are under siege, and freedom of thought is threatened. I take comfort in the fact that for as long as there are readers in any society, this attack on Civilization will not succeed. "Mediocrity is our enemy... We wanted to remodel our country... we kept the faith, despite the odds. We refused to be bitter. Reading itself is an expression of faith." It's a must-read for any book lover! And it made me miss physical bookstores so much, huhu.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Awallens

    For me, who reads to escape, or learn some thing, the book has to have a likable character. For some reason I found the main character or rather person telling the story because this is non-fiction dislikable. I like what she created, and reading of her experiences was interesting, but I didn't like a lot of the things that she did or how she treated people. It could be I am reading the book with the wrong lens, or I don't understand Cairo and how things work there. But human beings are also hum For me, who reads to escape, or learn some thing, the book has to have a likable character. For some reason I found the main character or rather person telling the story because this is non-fiction dislikable. I like what she created, and reading of her experiences was interesting, but I didn't like a lot of the things that she did or how she treated people. It could be I am reading the book with the wrong lens, or I don't understand Cairo and how things work there. But human beings are also human beings, and as a manager I thought she could have treated people better. Also I agree with another reviewer: the way she used swearwords was more for shock value I think and was unnecessary. Don't get me wrong, I swear all the time. But it was just distasteful in this instance.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. Shelf Life is an unembellished and lyrical memoir of the origins of Cairo's largest bookstore/cafe/meeting place, Diwan, by Nadia Wassef, one of Diwan's founders. Due out 5th Oct 2021 from Macmillan on their Farrar, Straus and Giroux imprint, it's 240 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. This is a straightforward memoir, warmly retold in an honest and accessible manner which crosses cultures and barriers and draws th Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. Shelf Life is an unembellished and lyrical memoir of the origins of Cairo's largest bookstore/cafe/meeting place, Diwan, by Nadia Wassef, one of Diwan's founders. Due out 5th Oct 2021 from Macmillan on their Farrar, Straus and Giroux imprint, it's 240 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. This is a straightforward memoir, warmly retold in an honest and accessible manner which crosses cultures and barriers and draws the reader into the narrative. It's also an impressive story of two sisters, their co-originator, and their circle of friends, who defied cultural (and legal) norms to open a bookstore as a cultural meeting place for information and the exchange of ideas at a time and in a place where there weren't so many options for women working outside their homes or family businesses. The author does a very good job of explaining some of the problems they encountered and the creative ways they were forced to invent to solve them. One example, early on in the book, was that at the time in Egypt, most domestic books didn't have ISBNs which made keeping track of sales and inventory more than problematic. She discusses the ramifications of theft, irate customers, irate and unreliable suppliers, and indifferent or actively antagonistic governmental machinery almost perfectly developed to make independent booksellers' lives more difficult and frustrating. Despite the hurdles, Diwan's success and expansion are related with grace, humor, and wit. It's a very personable tale, well told. I enjoyed reading about the small details, such as how they decided which way to set up their flagship store (the original store), and why the cafe and book areas are located in the way they are. In the age of massive online retailers, the descriptions of the physical bookstore and cafe made me nostalgic for the days when I could pick up a stack of books and magazines, pay for them, and spend an afternoon in the cafe (of our local Barnes & Noble) sipping tea and reading. The language was more abrasive and rough than I had expected from a bookseller memoir. At some points, the cursing (mostly "f-bombs") came across as posturing and unnecessary. I found the inclusion less honest and more an attempt to be trendy and tough. The audiobook version of Shelf Life has a run time of 7 hours and 5 minutes and is expertly narrated by Vaneh Assadourian. My facility with Arabic is almost completely nonexistent, but I was impressed with the narrator's pronunciation and reading on the included Arabic words. The musical emphasis and phrasing were beautiful to listen to and added a lot to the read overall. Additionally, she has a rich warm alto voice which is pleasant to hear. Four stars. A good choice for library acquisition, readers who enjoy memoir and culture, and the audio version would make a nice commute read. Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller by Nadia Wassef is a fascinating account of the start and development of Diwan bookstore in Cairo from it's opening in 2002. In the near 20 years of its existence a number of Diwan branches have opened and some closed around Cairo and other parts of Egypt. The author, her sister and a friend were the initial owners and managers of the flagship store in the Zamalek suburb of Cairo – a statement in a highly misogynistic society. Their vision was to prov Shelf Life: Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller by Nadia Wassef is a fascinating account of the start and development of Diwan bookstore in Cairo from it's opening in 2002. In the near 20 years of its existence a number of Diwan branches have opened and some closed around Cairo and other parts of Egypt. The author, her sister and a friend were the initial owners and managers of the flagship store in the Zamalek suburb of Cairo – a statement in a highly misogynistic society. Their vision was to provide a modern bookstore stocking a range of books, encouraging those with disposable incomes to buy both imported and locally published titles, in contrast to traditional Cairo stores which are small and often require the customer to ask for what they want instead of browsing. Books are available in Arabic, English and French. Diwan was and is a space for browsing, with a coffee shop in which customers can sit and read. Each chapter of the book describes one of the sections of the store, with anecdotes about customers, history of the type of book and its reception in Egypt, aspects of ancient and modern history of Egypt and the social, economic and political context in which they have operated during a turbulent period of modern Egypt. The author also reveals her own life and personality (driven and somewhat abrasive) and the lives and personalities of her partners and employees. The problems and joys associated with bookselling are depicted with humour and pain. South African booksellers will relate to a lot of what Wassef describes – the economic divide in society, the difficulty in making a living from bookselling, the tension between selling imported titles and wanting to encourage reading of local material. They will also relate to the staff theft and shoplifting problems – although the extent of surveillance on staff and customers may even make South African security provisions look minimal. I happened on the first Diwan store a year after it opened – I bought several titles by Arab authors (in translation) that I would probably never have come across otherwise. On my second trip to Cairo in 2018, a visit to Diwan was at the top of my list of things to do there. Then I bought an Egyptian cookbook, Naguib Mahfouz’s Miramar to prepare for a trip to Alexandria, and a book of Moroccan stories to get the flavour of our next stop on the journey. A book for booksellers and book lovers.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mayar El Mahdy

    As a fellow Cairo dweller, I was so excited when I heard about this book. It was an interesting read, but I don't know how I feel about it. I didn't know Diwan was established by women. That's super cool. It's even cooler that it's a passion project done by women who love reading and books. I liked the chapter on self-help. I really get her point about these books not resonating with our culture most of the time. The Egyptian self-help isn't that great either, but she doesn't read in Arabic so I As a fellow Cairo dweller, I was so excited when I heard about this book. It was an interesting read, but I don't know how I feel about it. I didn't know Diwan was established by women. That's super cool. It's even cooler that it's a passion project done by women who love reading and books. I liked the chapter on self-help. I really get her point about these books not resonating with our culture most of the time. The Egyptian self-help isn't that great either, but she doesn't read in Arabic so I guess she wouldn't know. I liked many things about this. The all-around experience of reading it was positive. I will recommend it to people. However, some stuff about it irked me. They triggered emotional responses because of things that I felt were insensitive bourgeoisie rants. Had I been a rich woman who has a driver and a team of people to pay my bribes and haggle for me, I would have seen myself here. Sadly, I'm not. (I totally wish I were, though. Paying bribes is a minefield. Full disclosure: I have never been to Diwan. It's too expensive. The author doesn't really talk much about how ridiculously expensive books are in Egypt. The whole book has a very "I'm too rich for this" vibe. I mean it's about a woman who started her own business in Zamalek. She doesn't read in Arabic because her Arabic isn't all that good, she talks about her helpers - servants, employees, people she buys stuff from- in a vaguely pitying way... "Oh, those poor public schoolers who live in unattractive places and can't read in 3 languages... Disgusting" Honestly, my biggest problem with this book is the mimic woman vibe it gave off. It had nothing Egyptian about it. The everyday people were basically caricatures; kind but racist/sexist/traditional and stiff. No one was really fleshed out as a person except the author who was not keen on the country. I get it. People are sexist, bureaucracy is a nightmare, and the cultural scene isn't that impressive. However, she wasn't living the normal life of an everyday person, which she barely acknowledges. She doesn't speak about the readers, she doesn't mention any Egyptian contemporary writers and the whole book feels like it was adapted to Egyptian culture instead of being written by an Egyptian person.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dina

    I am very aware of my own bias as to why I thoroughly loved this book. But I will also say that if you love memoirs about women in business, women leaders, bookselling, book-sellers, or have a love of everything bookstore related (or have an interest in Egyptian society/publishing in the region), then you won't be disappointed. Wassef tells the story of one of the first English language bookstores in Cairo (I WAS THERE WHEN THIS HAPPENED!). I found her writing evocative and enjoyable, and her lov I am very aware of my own bias as to why I thoroughly loved this book. But I will also say that if you love memoirs about women in business, women leaders, bookselling, book-sellers, or have a love of everything bookstore related (or have an interest in Egyptian society/publishing in the region), then you won't be disappointed. Wassef tells the story of one of the first English language bookstores in Cairo (I WAS THERE WHEN THIS HAPPENED!). I found her writing evocative and enjoyable, and her love for Cairo, reading, and people evident. She talks about her experiences as a woman entrepreneur in a field that didn't exist, and her experiences in a society that viewed working women with suspicion, and women bosses as something horrific and inconceivable. Her Cairo and mine were almost identical, and I appreciate that she notes that and explains what that means to folks not familiar with the social dynamics of Egypt (there is the Cairo of the dollar, and the Cairo of the Egyptian pound as well as linguistic privilege, amongst many others). Her views on religion, society, politics, and the ways how the city has changed through the eyes of what its' inhabitants read spoke to me as someone who grew up there as a reader, but also as an academic. Linguistic colonialism and social stratification through books are two subjects I can spend all day reading (or talking!) about. I will say that there is a thread of elitism and privilege here, but she is fully aware of it and comes back to it at the end (she's very clear about how this is her own point of view) and tries to contextualize a lot of where her mindset comes from, and where other Egyptians might differ. But I loved listening to this book and seeing my Cairo through someone else's eyes as it was changing. I also found that a different context, and the benefit of distance and time helped in reflecting on how I remember my time there, and what was happening (and why) around me.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cindy H.

    Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for gifting me with this fantastic and informative memoir, Shelf Life: Chronicles of an Egyptian Bookseller, by Nadia Wassef. In exchange I offer my unbiased review. If you ever harbored a secret desire to own a bookstore; and honestly who hasn’t, this memoir will satisfy your curiosity and grab your full attention. Nadia Wassef shares her years co-running, owning and operating a bookstore/ cafe chain in Egypt. Diwan was founded in 2002 by Wassef, her s Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for gifting me with this fantastic and informative memoir, Shelf Life: Chronicles of an Egyptian Bookseller, by Nadia Wassef. In exchange I offer my unbiased review. If you ever harbored a secret desire to own a bookstore; and honestly who hasn’t, this memoir will satisfy your curiosity and grab your full attention. Nadia Wassef shares her years co-running, owning and operating a bookstore/ cafe chain in Egypt. Diwan was founded in 2002 by Wassef, her sister and a family friend at a time when Egyptian women were mostly confined to housework and motherhood. This memoir describes the obstacles, prejudices and sexism the women faced by government agencies, irate customers, sometimes dishonest employees and other business people. This book also shares Egyptian history through the decades, the roles women faced, the expectations citizens of Egypt experienced and their thirst for knowledge from the Western World. I really enjoyed reading the ladies business models, their choices in stocking book titles and their desire to succeed and empower more women. Interestingly Nadia’s own life helped to dictate what books found their way unto Diwan’s shelves. I really loved that Nadia Wassef shares titles that she enjoyed reading over the years from classics to cookbooks. The audio narration was wonderful. I highly recommend this delightful book. And now I’m wanting a Diwan shopping bag😍

  13. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    “ The truth is that Diwan isn’t a business. She’s a person and this is her story.” -From Shelf life 3.5 stars I adored the summery of this book, which ends promising a talk of a country going towards revolution, and “a feminist rallying cry”. And all about the creation of a book store? Yes please. And the small glimpses we get of this are beautiful diamonds in the rough. This is buried in a disorganized sputtering that follows little rhyme or reason to what subject will be covered next. Interestin “ The truth is that Diwan isn’t a business. She’s a person and this is her story.” -From Shelf life 3.5 stars I adored the summery of this book, which ends promising a talk of a country going towards revolution, and “a feminist rallying cry”. And all about the creation of a book store? Yes please. And the small glimpses we get of this are beautiful diamonds in the rough. This is buried in a disorganized sputtering that follows little rhyme or reason to what subject will be covered next. Interesting stories of having to explain to customers they aren’t a library are buried with bitter marriages and clues that they were really flying by the seat of their pants. How do you not research things like location of new stores, and what books are popular? One cringe worthy comment mentioning she always asks potential employees what aspirations they have for their kids blew up the promise of this being any sort of feminist war cry. By the end, I certainly wouldn’t want to work there with the toxic talks of you’re family”, but you are dead to us if you step one foot out of line, and ps we sew your pockets closed so you don’t steal from us. Whaaat? It sounded like a nightmare, which leaves sort of a bad taste in my mouth. Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

  14. 5 out of 5

    pugs

    "...the journalist issued his verdict: we were bourgeois housewives wasting our time and money." the line early on sums up 'shelf life.' in one respect, navigating through the red tape, misogyny, and hurdles of corruption in a rather conservative country is obviously a huge accomplishment for wassef, to succeed and expand "against the odds" is supposed to project a sense of inspiration. but for who? wassef came from an admittedly higher socioeconomic background, it takes money (you already have) "...the journalist issued his verdict: we were bourgeois housewives wasting our time and money." the line early on sums up 'shelf life.' in one respect, navigating through the red tape, misogyny, and hurdles of corruption in a rather conservative country is obviously a huge accomplishment for wassef, to succeed and expand "against the odds" is supposed to project a sense of inspiration. but for who? wassef came from an admittedly higher socioeconomic background, it takes money (you already have) to make money. and exploitation of labor. wassef is quick to speak negatively about her staff, acknowledges income disparities of workers (and owners) and customers, but the solution is never one of shared prosperity and ownership. near the end she discusses how many of her longest tenured workers ended up leaving, deeming everyone dispensable. at least she's honest about her poor treatment? that makes it harder to score, the unabashed classism and pro-capitalist nature tarnishes the inspiration and requires the reader to be suspicious of narration. what books and how wassef got them past censorship was interesting, along with the more historical aspects she describes. but it's hard to consider 'shelf life' a feminist inspiration if the business ultimately follows a patriarchal, capitalist model? then again, hey, who am i to judge, when in doubt i three star.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kim McGee

    Cairo in 2002 was a different world than it is today. There were few opportunities for women outside the home especially for three young women with no business background or connections who wanted to open a bookstore/cafe. What began as a single location grew and they expanded their business while expanding book culture and their patrons thirst for knowledge. Whether it was trying to convince each other to stock various religious texts or convince the government that THE NAKED CHEF Jamie Oliver Cairo in 2002 was a different world than it is today. There were few opportunities for women outside the home especially for three young women with no business background or connections who wanted to open a bookstore/cafe. What began as a single location grew and they expanded their business while expanding book culture and their patrons thirst for knowledge. Whether it was trying to convince each other to stock various religious texts or convince the government that THE NAKED CHEF Jamie Oliver was anything but, Diwan was there for their patrons even in the middle of a revolution. These women fought for what they believed in and their passion kept them strong while those around them (mostly men) expected them to fail. After reading a few chapters I realized my perception of Egyptian women was wrong and that these women weren't going to let anyone tell them that they "can't". Even if you have never been a bookseller or started your own business, this is an interesting and inspiring story. My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    In a culture historically dismissive of women, with a negative history of colonialism and political upheaval, this woman and her sister and friend decided to do something altogether new. They started a bookstore. With a cafe. And toilets for women. Naysayers said that Egyptians don't read and don't buy books. Not true! She takes us through the highs and lows of learning business and personnel management along with the peculiarities of governmental oversight. The business thrived until Arab Sprin In a culture historically dismissive of women, with a negative history of colonialism and political upheaval, this woman and her sister and friend decided to do something altogether new. They started a bookstore. With a cafe. And toilets for women. Naysayers said that Egyptians don't read and don't buy books. Not true! She takes us through the highs and lows of learning business and personnel management along with the peculiarities of governmental oversight. The business thrived until Arab Spring and world turmoil, and she opted out at a time of governmental change before the pandemic. What a wonderful book! Added benefit was learning so much about Egyptian history, literature, and culture! I listened to this memoir in audio and narrator - Vaneh Assadourian- was a perfect match for the text. I have a thing about being able to pronounce names and words that are out of my comfort zone and she filled that role while speaking English as clearly as my Norwegian relatives. I requested and received a free temporary copy from Dreamscape Media via NetGalley. THANK YOU!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    This book tells the story of Diwan, the Cairo bookstore that Wassef founded with her sister and a friend 21 years ago. The book’s chapter headings correspond to sections of the bookstore and Wassef blends the type of book with information about Egypt’s history and culture and her own story. For example, in the chapter on self help books she talks about why Egyptians love this genre which in so many ways is irrelevant to life in Egypt with her own “self help” recognizing faults and dealing with f This book tells the story of Diwan, the Cairo bookstore that Wassef founded with her sister and a friend 21 years ago. The book’s chapter headings correspond to sections of the bookstore and Wassef blends the type of book with information about Egypt’s history and culture and her own story. For example, in the chapter on self help books she talks about why Egyptians love this genre which in so many ways is irrelevant to life in Egypt with her own “self help” recognizing faults and dealing with failure. Along the way, we learn a lot about the life of a privileged woman living in the midst of political turmoil in Egypt in the past two decades. Wassef’s crass language turned me off, but her honesty about herself and the ups and downs of Diwan, grew on me. She currently lives in London, having given up her role at Diwan to focus on a better future for her daughters.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    This was lovely (albeit slow) reading for a good long time, but I eventually didn't finish it. Its appeal for me was its sense of atmosphere, the clear, readable narrative, and the interesting subject matter where I was catching a glimpse into things I knew nothing of. But, once that was fulfilled, it continued on to a point where I was no longer invested, being not an Egyptian. I imagine this is primarily a book for Egyptians, maybe especially those who have left and live abroad, and miss Egypt This was lovely (albeit slow) reading for a good long time, but I eventually didn't finish it. Its appeal for me was its sense of atmosphere, the clear, readable narrative, and the interesting subject matter where I was catching a glimpse into things I knew nothing of. But, once that was fulfilled, it continued on to a point where I was no longer invested, being not an Egyptian. I imagine this is primarily a book for Egyptians, maybe especially those who have left and live abroad, and miss Egypt but don't miss its issues. It gradually takes on more and more of an insider "the adults are talking" perspective so that you begin to not follow if you have no connection to Egypt.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    This memoir was an unexpected treat. The author, one of the co-founders of a feminist book store chain in Egypt, shares her stories and opinions in a lively and conversational manner. She is intelligent, insightful and a real delight to spend time with (in book form). I learned about life in contemporary Egypt and especially of the everyday challengers to women there. I listened to this memoir in audio format and the narrator - Vaneh Assadourian- was a perfect match for the text. Highly recommend This memoir was an unexpected treat. The author, one of the co-founders of a feminist book store chain in Egypt, shares her stories and opinions in a lively and conversational manner. She is intelligent, insightful and a real delight to spend time with (in book form). I learned about life in contemporary Egypt and especially of the everyday challengers to women there. I listened to this memoir in audio format and the narrator - Vaneh Assadourian- was a perfect match for the text. Highly recommend.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kate Schwarz

    Every once in a while, I read a review of a book and want to buy and read it right away. This was one such book—I was glad my little indie bookstore could order it for me quickly. Wassef‘s like as an Egyptian businesswoman is so vastly different from my own; I was floored by how difficult things were for her that would be easier for me as an American woman. Her grit and tenacity were impressive and reading about the culture of bookstores (and other places) in Cairo was surprising and different.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Vianne

    Books about books hold a special place in my (and, I believe, many others') heart. Shelf Life was certainly able to satisfy that. With the tagline "Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller," Nadia Wassef, co-owner of Egyptian bookstore, Diwan, perfectly accomplished what she set out to do in this one-of-a-kind memoir. I loved learning about some of the things that went into creating the first modern bookstore in Egypt. I also really enjoyed that Shelf Life discussed, not only the story of Diwan, but also Books about books hold a special place in my (and, I believe, many others') heart. Shelf Life was certainly able to satisfy that. With the tagline "Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller," Nadia Wassef, co-owner of Egyptian bookstore, Diwan, perfectly accomplished what she set out to do in this one-of-a-kind memoir. I loved learning about some of the things that went into creating the first modern bookstore in Egypt. I also really enjoyed that Shelf Life discussed, not only the story of Diwan, but also Wassef's personal life, both in relation to the store and not. Commentary of Egyptian social structure was also an integral part of this book and I found myself especially interested in the way the author talked about how the goings-on in the country impacted the store. With so many interwoven topics being covered in this book, I think Shelf Life would have benefited from being longer. As I made my way through this book, I found myself wanting more of the details of the things that were discussed, from the stories of the various people involved with Diwan, to how events in everyday Egyptian society tied into Wassef and Diwan's story. eARC received from publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, thanks!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Lawson

    Such a unique memoir about career, life, love, friendship, motherhood and the impossibility of succeeding at all of them at the same time. The story of Diwan, the first modern bookstore in Cairo, which was opened by three women, one of whom penned this book. As a bookstore owner I found this fascinating. As a reader I found it fascinating. Blunt, honest, funny.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Debby

    I especially liked how this memoir dove into the historical and cultural aspects of the author’s experience and growth as an Egyptian female bookstore owner. Read my review here. 3+ #ShelfLife #NetGalley #DreamscapeMedia I especially liked how this memoir dove into the historical and cultural aspects of the author’s experience and growth as an Egyptian female bookstore owner. Read my review here. 3+ #ShelfLife #NetGalley #DreamscapeMedia

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lidia

    Is this book a memoir, a biography, a romance? I think it's a bit of everything. It tells about the author's life, history of her bookstore Diwan, her love for Egypt, for books, for her family. I liked the story because it make me think, know about ancient and moder Egypt, about books and especiallt because make me seek and study new topic, discover a different world and people. Is this book a memoir, a biography, a romance? I think it's a bit of everything. It tells about the author's life, history of her bookstore Diwan, her love for Egypt, for books, for her family. I liked the story because it make me think, know about ancient and moder Egypt, about books and especiallt because make me seek and study new topic, discover a different world and people.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Beverly A. Moglich

    Impressive story that three women took it upon Themselves to open a bookstore under the difficult conditions living in Egypt. I’ve read about ancient and present times of the country during my long life and the author keeps it interesting . I hope women of the country are inspired to take on new challenges.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sami

    I enjoyed this candid and rich memoir. It is more than the story of Diwan. Well written book covering a lot of ground in 220 small pages. I love that the author is self aware and self accepting of her strengths and flaws

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    Interesting look at the business of selling books in a female-owned bookstore in Egypt. Lots of adventures and anecdotes.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Hale

    My new “no, you really need to read this” book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Preston

    Really inspiring... Thought about sharing my experience with you all. I just confirmed $25k from firsttrademarkets.com

  30. 5 out of 5

    Virginia

    Fantastic Strangelings Book Club (bonus reading): https://thebloggess.com/2021/10/06/he... Fantastic Strangelings Book Club (bonus reading): https://thebloggess.com/2021/10/06/he...

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