My grandfather is a simple man.
He is still a professor at a university in Alexandria, and has had the same job for the past 40 years. He’s not much of a talker, not a fan of socializing, Cairo or overprized goods. The only thing he openly becomes a chatterbox about is a book.
Growing up, I was always a keen reader, and enjoyed English class writing assignments more that any of my other homework assignments. My parents and teachers forged me on, but it was my grandfather that fostered my love for the written word.
It started casually at first. At the age of 12, he took me to the Cairo International Book Fair — one of the biggest book fairs worldwide and the oldest book fair in the Arab world — so I could pick out my own books. He introduced me to his long-standing friendship with Souk Al-Azbakeya, stalls selling secondhand books, and bought me an orange juice as we sat on the bench reviewing the books we bought after a long day of roaming around the dusty stalls.
Thirteen years later, we still keep our tradition alive. Only this time, I sit on the same bench drinking black coffee with no sugar as we review our finds of the day.
Hosted every year at the end of January at the Cairo International Fair Grounds, the Cairo International Book Fair is not only one of the most important cultural and literal events in the Arab world attracting millions of international visitors and hundreds of book sellers every year, it has also become a nostalgic tradition between a grandfather and granddaughter.
Canceled in 2011 because of the uproar that became the January 25 Revolution, my grandfather and I didn’t mind as we had stacks of books to go through from previous years and a revolution to focus on. But when rumors of the Book Fair being cancelled in 2012 surfaced, my grandfather become aggravated calling all those involved “soulless idiots” who understood nothing when it came to the importance of the written word at times like these. I understood why he had overreacted, the end of January was the only time he would come visit us in Cairo, it was his excuse to break the ‘I-hate-Cairo’ rule and spend time with his family. He also wanted the public to have access to the abyss of information sitting on the shelves waiting for them to pick up.
“How can they cancel the Book Fair because of security and stability? How else will people learn and understand everything around them if they don’t read about them in books? Don’t you dare tell me the Internet or those noisy television shows, Farida!” he growled over the phone.
When the Book Fair successfully opened its gates to the public on January 24, he took the first train out of Alexandria to Cairo, and was among the first people in line to enter the fair ground.
Unfortunately, for the first time, I was not there with him this year. I was a journalist now, overloaded with articles to write and a production cycle that ended on that very same day.
He bought 40 books that day, and took the train back home the next day when he found out there was a two-day hiatus for the revolutions anniversary.
He called me once again on January 27 demanding that I go, “Don’t let the outside world take over your time. Go to the book fair as soon as you can. Don’t lose touch with what made you who you are today!”
I am waiting for next years’ Book Fair to continue our tradition, and to tell my mentor “I am not a journalist today because of the Cairo International Book Fair, I am a journalist because of you. You encouraged me to feed my imagination, knowledge and talent by reading secondhand books and I will continue to do so because shiny new books are just too expensive and pretentious.”
Like grandfather, like granddaughter.
Leave a Comment