Sunday, August 29, 2004
The primary activity of our merry band of vacationers has been reading, oddly enough, so I thought that I'd talk about books a bit. The reading list for my visitors has been as follows: Dan Brown's 'Angels and Demons' (Given the Hardy Boys booby prize), John LeCarre's 'The Constant Gardener', Milan Kundera's 'Ignorance', Heinrich Boll's 'The Silent Angel', and a Polish translation of Joseph Heller's 'God Knows'. I also brought along a book edited by Deborah Manley and Sahar Abdel Hakim called 'Traveling Through Egypt' which is a compilation of travelers' tales from Egypt from the ancient Greeks to modern times. It's a perfect beach or garden book because it's organised by topic rather than time period, so you can be comfortable picking it up more or less at random. The accounts of travelers the like of Ibn Battuta, Lucy Duff Gordon, or Gustave Flaubert give a fascinating persepective on the activities of tourists as well as on the country itself.
I've bought a lot of books from the American University in Cairo, and for people interested in any aspect of Egypt, their website is a useful stop. I was first introduced to Naguib Mahfouz, the Nobel prize winning author, through the AUC press paperbacks for sale in hotel lobbies. I bought one (Midaq Alley), read it and went back for more. I've lost more Naquib Mahfouz novels than I care to remember by loaning them to friends to read and pass on. I'm now the proud owner of autographed copies (hardback this time) of the Cairo Trilogy.
AUC Press publishes books about Egypt that aren't published anywhere else. You can find modern literature, including all of Mahfouz' works, guidebooks to the birds and animals of Egypt as well as the cities and ruins, historical and sociological studies, language handbooks, and the best book that has ever been written about Cairo, Max Rodenbeck's 'Cairo The City Victorious'. Max's book got rave reviews locally and my children bought me a copy when it was first published. In return, I bought each of them the paperback to take to college and read whenever they got homesick. Later, every one of the visitors we've had has been given a copy of the book to remember Cairo by. In almost every case, the reader has dived in to resurface about a week later with a big grin. So if you can't afford the air fare, try the bookstore.