A novel weekend

19 Feb 2014
POSTED BY Y Magazine

Pull on your comfy clothes and peruse mysteries, memoirs and moments of melancholy. Shishira Sreenivas finds out where Oman’s bookworms hang out



We all lead pretty hectic lives, be it chasing our dream careers, being a parent or, in my case, stressing about weekly deadlines. However, when we do get that rare moment to unwind, we reach for one of our many screened gadgets to flit through Twitter or Facebook and fill our brains with tit bits of useless information.

Whatever happened to the good old habit of reading books? You know, the paper kind. In my opinion, most of us can definitely use some non-digital downtime to distract our over worked brains with someone else’s fictitious problem. Instead of using the weekend to further exert our bodies through adrenaline filled activity, try giving your mind a work out instead by slumping on the couch with a good read.

While most people assume that there is limited access to books in Oman, nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, there is a plethora of options if you want to get your hands on a traditional hardback novel. Try some of the commercial stores like Borders at Qurum City Centre or MGM, WHSmith at Jawarahat Al Shatti or the Family Bookshop located in Madinat Qaboos – it’s been serving Muscat’s book-loving community for many years.

Love vintage books? Try Prose, a used bookshop located in Al Wadi Commercial Centre in Qurum.

Of course, the problem with a lot of these bookstores is that they’re relatively small – compared to the emporiums you find elsewhere – and the choice is limited. It’s a drag when you’ve just read an amazing review online and want to buy the book without resorting to Internet orders and costly shipping.

The solution is right here in Muscat. Maggie Jeans, along with her husband Bill, own a book importing company called Al Manahil.

“If readers want to purchase a book directly from Amazon but don’t want to pay the high shipping costs, they can enter our UK shipper as the address and collect the books from our office for a nominal fee,” she explains.

While buying books obviously comes with a price tag, lending a book is not only free but will also save much needed shelf space. While there is a woeful lack of lending libraries in the Sultanate, there are ways around the problem.

“All ministries have libraries where you can find books for research or leisure,” reveals Maggie.

According to the woman in the know, Hisn Al Shomoukh Library, located near the palace, is also a great place for all kinds of printed and electronic material. “But if you’re looking for a quiet corner, I find the library at the Grand Mosque to be the ideal bookish environment,” says the British book veteran.

If you want less silence and more social cool, try one of the book corners at one of the city’s many bustling bistros and coffee shops. My favourites include Gloria Jean’s at MGM, Café G, Costa at the Wave and More in the Opera Galleria. There you can chill out with a borrowed book whilst sipping your favourite latte. Perfect!

EDITOR’S TOP READS

With the endless reading choices available in the literary universe, selecting the next book to read can be overwhelming. Penny Fray shares her favourite three classics:

WOLF HALL 

By Hilary Mantel 

A historic tome set in Tudor England may not scream beach read but you’ll be surprised how the past can sometimes be sexier than fiction.

Mantel tells the story of Henry VIIIs pursuit of Anne Boleyn with a pacy, contemporary tone, which makes the pages fly. Genuinely gripping and beautifully written, it is a Man Booker winner worth buying, rather than borrowing.

Sample extract: “A man’s power is in the half light, in the half seen movements of his hand and the unguessed at expression of his face. It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires.” Thomas Cromwell.

PERSUASION 

By Jane Austen 

Persuasion is widely appreciated as a moving story despite its simple plot of enduring love. Austen wrote it in a hurry, during the onset of the illness from which she eventually died; as a result, the novel is arguably shorter and less polished than the ever-popular Pride & Prejudice. Nevertheless, I think it has more heart and maturity than her other novels.

Sample extract: “All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!”

THE END OF THE AFFAIR

By Graham Greene

I’m not sure why this novel resonates with me so deeply but it’s a fine examination of obsession, jealousy and faith. Set in London during (and just after) the Second World War, it tells of the complex relationship between writer Maurice Bendrix, Sarah Miles and her husband, civil servant Henry Miles. Gripping stuff.

Sample extract: “The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.”


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