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Travel to Dubai


Bookshop Dubai

1 February 2015

A bookshop and café, specialising in new and used publications about the Middle East and North Africa in Dubai International Financial Centre, Bookshop is fast becoming a popular spot for those interested in regional culture

Tucked away amongst the glistening towers of Dubai’s financial district, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), devotees of the printed page will find Bookshop – a veritable treasure trove of difficult to source books exploring Middle Eastern and North African culture. The independent store-café specialises in both new and used publications in Arabic and English, including vintage fiction and non-fiction finds that encompass the breadth of the region’s literature, from architecture and design to history, poetry, film, music and sociological essays. 

“Weirdly enough, it’s hard to find a bookshop selling Middle Eastern and North African books, in Dubai or elsewhere, that explores the region’s culture and delves deep into its heritage,” says Bookshop’s Programme Manager Charles Prest of the decision to open the store. However, Bookshop focuses on more than just hawking its wares. 

A calm oasis amid the hustle and bustle of city life in DIFC, it is also a community meeting point, where guests are encouraged to meet and work, or linger over a cup of organic coffee and a bite to eat, be it a healthy salad or a tempting sweet treat, including Bookshop’s popular cronuts. With a nose for the offbeat and pared-back, customers enjoy complimentary chocolate beans with Bookshop coffees, and can avail of the store’s loyalty card programme, a wall of colourful Post-It notes, each etched with a regular’s name and stamped upon every visit. 

“We’re definitely not just a bookshop,” says Charles. “We have so many things on offer, and we are very much a social space and hub. People come here for coffee, for meetings, to check out our books, as well as to take part in our programme of talks and workshops.” 

In an effort to share and explore Middle Eastern and North African culture further, Bookshop also runs a comprehensive programme of post-work activities, focused on collaborations with local scribes, artists and designers. The community-minded events are each built around monthly themes and include a 12-week learn conversational Arabic course, poetry readings, musical performances and arts or crafts demonstrations. 

Throughout February, Bookshop’s theme is Performance. Live poetry readings and an oud (a type of classical Arabic guitar) performance will form part of the monthly programme. For Charles, his affinity for the region started at a young age. The son of UK expats, he was raised in Bahrain and, having studied film, he spent his formative years researching and documenting the lives of locals in Bahrain and in Dubai. His work at Bookshop is further deepening his investigative inclinations.

“There is so much going on here in Dubai and I really enjoy collaborating with local artists and the research that goes into unearthing our books,” he says. “Because I’ve studied film, I have of course being trying to find books on Middle Eastern film makers! At the moment we have book on women in film in the region. But, mostly I like to find quirky, hard to find stuff. 

“The books can be quite random at times, but that is what makes the store interesting and engaging. I source rare books from local areas and collections, as well from abroad, particularly the US and UK. Since we’ve opened, I’ve also had people come in to donate books or recommended something that we should stock.” 

Perusing the publications that fill the shelves lining Bookshop’s walls, book lovers will discover popular Arabic authors, such as the Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, who writes of his experiences growing up in the small towns of Egypt. With an eclectic stock, readers will also find vintage tomes first printed in the early 1980s, such as Strela, a giant of a book depicting the life of a fighter pilot in Oman. Other used but well-thumbed niche titles include architectural expositions, such as a book on Post-Islamic Classicism in Iraq, which explores how to blend heritage vernacular architecture with modernism. 

“We really offer quite a mix of books. The photography and architectural books are always popular and so are our selection from the Sharjah Art Foundation,” says Charles. Bookshop has also launched the Corner Shop. Here, the team dedicates a corner of its space to a local stationary designer or artist, enabling them to curate their own showcase for their work. 

A recent display featured the work of Thirtynine Stationary, which is created in Dubai by Emirati designers and manufactured locally. Thirtynine’s focus is on offering simple, inspiring and well-crafted small white spaces that are designed to be filled with big ideas. The collaboration between store and local designers is part of Bookshop’s philosophy of supporting Dubai’s cultural scene and offering customers something that’s a little bit different. 

With its sister store, The Magazine Shop, which offers a selection of independent titles nearby, Bookshop is the literary arm of the Cultural Engineering group, which is helping to shape and promote Dubai’s new cultural consciousness through its diverse projects, which also include The Archive, The Pavilion and Shelter cafes and arts hubs. Like its counterparts, Charles says Bookshop’s focus is on community. 

“I just love how Bookshop is a place where people can come and relax and hang out together. And it’s so rewarding when people are intrigued enough to try out a new book or experience that they haven’t tried before,” he says. “Ultimately, Bookshop is all about offering an alternative. It’s about the things that you can’t often find in Dubai, or elsewhere for that matter.” 


Words and images: Sandra Tinari