Thursday, 6 June 2013

"I Read For Pleasure And That Is The Moment I Learn The Most" -Margaret Atwood, Canadian author.

This week I’m sending off my roomie…Again. The Lebanese lady has been attending an abundance of “good-bye” parties and bringing home waaaaaaay too many leftover sweets (I’ve been declining to attend most festivities because I've been exhausted and feeling under the weather). Yes, the cupcakes were tasty, and apparently so is the huge chunk of leftover cheesecake, but I’m sick of sweets, hahaha! I’m very aware that this is my second send-off in six months, but in all fairness, the Lebanese lady sent me off first, so it’s only fair that I do the same for her. I’m not looking forward to it. I know that it will be tough and I’m trying not to think about what she’s going home to: an ever-growing hostile situation in Lebanon and, in spite of her extensive experience and brilliance, no solid job prospect. No, I’m not happy about it and yes, I’m definitely worried. The only thing that makes me breathe easier is that her sisters live in Dubai and Qatar and so if she needed to get out of Lebanon fast, she could. Another chapter is closing for us both.

I’m thankful that the Irish chef will be around still. Man, that guy is travelling to Serbia and Vietnam this summer! YES, I’m VERY jealous! He and I have been hunting for the ultimate bookstore in Kuwait-not an easy feat. We have read blogs, asked locals (our students, hahaha!) and googled a ton of words and phrases to try and find a decent bookstore. Here’s what we’ve discovered thus far:

#1-The best used bookstore is Better Books and Café in Salmiya (ph:66637351,, open from 10am-8pm 7 days a week, Directions available at blog website.
Now the Irish chef had heard about this place from a colleague at AUM and told me all about it last fall. He visited it on his own once before and loved it. I really like the owner and the fact that they have a buy back policy. Alright, why be modest? I LOVE that they have a buy back policy! I’m all for recycling and sharing with the book-loving community in Kuwait! The owner, Maxine, remembered the Irish chef and quickly made me feel at home. Although she was playing some sappy, romantic music, I just felt like my mom was in the room with me, so it gave the whole place warmth that I didn’t expect, or think I’d enjoy. We didn’t take up her offer for complimentary tea or coffee, but that’s okay because The Coffee Bean was close by and while we waited for our driver, we sipped on ice coffee-mmmmm!

*NOTE that I heard from someone that the police closed this place down, but that the owner, Maxine, is used to this and will re-open soon. Apparently the police closed her store down because it was selling inappropriate reading material (believe me, no worse than Jarir and the Kuwait Bookstore), and because her shop houses yoga and salsa classes where “women leave scantily clad and with men late at night.” Another little bird told me that this is a regular occurrence and that re-opening depends on financial bribery. Lovely. Maxine has been in Kuwait a loooong time. A New Yorker, she has definitely done some amazing things for the expat community here! A big thank you for the hospitality and huge selection of Canadian authors!*
While the Irish chef opted for travel books (not travel books for specific countries or regions, but travel narratives/stories), I chose a Margaret Atwood novel (The Blind Assassin). Say what? Yeah! Seriously, there was an alarmingly high volume of Can lit. there! Woooohoooooo! I saw Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, Guy Vanderhaeghe, and even Eden Robinson?!? I LOVE IT! I am DEFINITELY going back to trade any unloved books in!

#2-The best multi-purpose bookstore is Jarir Bookstore in Hawally which is literally INSIDE an amusement park. Located within the confines of Hawalli Park, Jarir was a recommendation from a student of mine. Info: The Irish chef and I thought going on a Friday morning would be a good idea. However, it wasn’t. The shop didn’t open until 4pm. Durrr! We thought we’d simply grab a coffee at Al Muhallab Mall (mall info here: It wasn’t as simple as we’d hoped and not only did we leave Hawalli bookless, but I was irritable because I didn’t get a decent cup of coffee (my first of the day is the most important). We ventured back that evening after 4pm when it WAS open and I was pleasantly surprised. Although this place is mostly books, only about half of the books are in English (the other half are in Arabic). Although books are a clear feature of this place, so are cell/mobile phones, electronics, stationary and gift wrap/cards. We didn’t spend too much time there (just over an hour). The Irish chef and I were debating whether to purchase travel books (about Vietnam and Turkey. Turkey is a potential holiday spot I’ve been thinking about for the Eid holiday in October), and I was also looking at ESL books. We ended up with a tiny English map of Kuwait, a book by Julian Barnes titled, The Sense of an Ending and the Irish chef picked up a Paul Auster novel which was a recommendation that he got from a Kuwaiti girl who saw him looking at it. This was a pleasant surprise for both of us since Kuwaitis are not known as being avid readers. The girl saw the Irish chef looking the book over and told him she’d read Paul Auster and that he was a great writer. He returned the favour by recommending a Jonathan Franzen novel (what? Jarir had a Franzen novel???). I saw her take the Franzen novel J

#3-The largest bookstore we checked out was the Kuwait Bookstore. Seriously, check out the “Expat and the City’s post about this place: The Kuwait Bookstore is located in the basement of Muthanna Complex across from the Marriott Hotel in Kuwait City (another blogger’s opinion: You’d think we’d learn from our first trip to Jarir (which is not open on Fridays because of Friday prayer), but nope, we went on a Friday morning only to be extremely disappointed. I had a gut feeling it’d be closed. Anyhooo, we DID find coffee this time at the Swiss Bel Hotel. We also discovered a Korean restaurant there: Arirang. OKAY, so the trip hadn’t been a complete waste! We returned the next day for books and food and did we ever get books and food! I picked up a book called This is not the end of the book and I LOVE how it’s arranged. Written by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere, I started to read excerpts in the bookstore and began laughing out loud. I’m very excited to read it! The Irish chef picked up cookbooks and an academic text centralized on how to write fiction. We were super happy and then after lunch we were stuffed and happy!

I have finished the Japanese crime/thriller Out by Natsuo Kirino (it was INCREDIBLE! Disturbing, but incredible!), Julian Barnes’ novel was also good, but couldn’t compete with Out. Now I’m reading a YA novel on my e-reader and next I’m either going to steal the Irish chef’s Paul Auster novel, or read the Eco novel and the Atwood simultaneously. I’m obsessed with reading. The Irish chef was immersed in Battle Royal all weekend last weekend (been there done that!).

My new books!!!
COFFEE!!! It was VERY good coffee, too!
Although this place was empty (probably because it was "too early" in the morning), it didn't fail to impress!
 The Korean restaurant across from the cafe was delicious!!!
 A mix of Korean, Chinese and even Japanese appetizers. LOOK! KIMCHI!!!
Dolsot bibimbap (rice, meat and veggies in a HOT stone pot): The before picture.
 Dolsot bibimbap: The after picture.
The Irish chef's spicy kimchi and tofu soup with sticky rice!

It hasn’t ALL been about bookstores. Last weekend I went out with former colleagues from the university, the Lebanese free spirit and my Lebanese friend who’s married to a man from my hometown in Canada. We went to P.F. Chang’s (not my choice), and it serves good ol’ fashioned, greasy, junky, unauthentic Chinese food. Our service was quite poor and we spent waaaaaay too long at the place. It was packed (it was a Saturday afternoon) and too noisy. I’m not a fan of the Avenues as it is, but I was excited to see my friends and we had a blast! I really enjoyed meeting my colleague’s husband-he’s a Canuck (slang for “Canadian”), and said “eh” like it was a normal thing for him! I was shocked when he gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek in the open mall area. I thought I’d be arrested on the spot, but nothing of the sort happened, and I was once again reminded that the enforcement of such “delinquencies” can be superficial and represent a means of showing power/enforcement instead of actually believing that a crime has been committed. Incredible, isn’t it?


  1. You went to better books! I love that place and have visited a few times. I live just a stone's throw from it and have picked up a few of my childhood favourites for my little girl. (like the hungry caterpillar).

    Was really sad to hear that it has closed but the owner is determined and I'm sure it'll be open in no time. Besides, on their fb page, she's written that the book that is supposedly banned is actually in the Kuwait University library. Who knew that the library here at work had banned literature. Should definitely check it out :)

    The other two stores to be honest, I haven't been so impressed with. Maybe its all the Arabic titles that puts me off. Not sure.

    Next time you're near the Muthana complex, you should eat at Khyber. Its a hole in a wall Indian restaurant but they make awesome chicken tikka and pooris. Just walk down the road from the Swiss Bel Hotel. You'll see khyber on your right. Ask for it to be made spicy if you can handle the heat :-)

  2. layla, i did go to better books! it's a GREAT place! i'm glad it's so convenient for you to go there and hopefully it will be reopened soon! we all know that you have to be careful about what the "official" word is about kuwait (both positive and negative).

    i know that too many arabic titles can be a turnoff. i felt like that when i saw the teeny tiny "bookstore" in the avenues. i couldn't stop laughing because i thought it was a joke.

    i will definitely check out khyber! is it in the back alley way by swiss bel hotel??? we saw a few restaurants back there that looked sketchy, but of course, that doesn't mean the food isn't amazing! thank you for the tip!!!