@ Your Library: The scoop on Middle East authors

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With both Egypt and Libya very much in the news lately, I thought it might be a good idea to find something in the library that might be of interest to you that was not an interpretation of current events. That brought to mind fiction.

Libyan writers are rare and it was a wonderful find several months ago when The Country of Men by Libyan writer Hisham Matar was among books donated to the library. The book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, in 2006 and when you read it, you will understand why. The book is also on a long list of world book prizes, including the Guardian First Book Award. The New York Times described it well when they said “A poetic account … resonant with the details of a Libyan childhood.”

The author’s father, who had been working for the Libyan delegation to the United Nations and in New York much of the time, was accused of being a reactionary and forced to flee Libya for Egypt, where in 1990 he was kidnapped and handed over to the Libyan regime. He was imprisoned in the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli and nothing has been heard from him or of him since 2002. Matar now lives in London and continues to write. He is also the writer in residence for the First Story organization, a literary charity formed to improve literacy and foster creativity in young people through creative writing. Their focus is students in “challenging” state schools.

Egypt is also a country with few modern writers known to most of us. There is one writer who stands out, and like Matar, his work was recognized for its genius but in this instance with a Nobel Prize in 1988. Naguib Mahfouz died in 2006 leaving behind an extensive body of work. His Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street, also known as the Cairo Trilogy, are in the library and now on display. The books cover a time period from the First World War to the 1950s, with the story revolving around three families in Cairo. Mafouz’s writing is rich and detailed where Matar’s writing is spare and precise, and I highly recommend both authors if you are looking for insight into cultures different than ours but also with very much in common.

One more book I should mention, though not a prize winner, is well worth reading and that is The Yacoubian Building by Egyptian writer Ala Aswany. The book was first published in Arabic in 2004 and as the New York Review of Books states, is “captivating and controversial — an amazing glimpse of modern Egyptian society and culture.”

Saturday saw the introduction to patrons of the self-check station on the front desk in the library. The staff and I had a great time with patron “training” and patrons were all happy to try it out. The computer, scanner and receipt printer have been set up right at the circ desk so staff members will be available when needed. On our trial runs, we discovered if there are fines, books overdue or if there is a note on the account, the patron will get an error message on the screen and require assistance from a staff member, who is not far away.  Even the Luddites in the crowd enjoyed the sense of accomplishment at checking out and desensitizing their own material. Staff will be able to give more attention to patrons requiring additional help with things like reference questions and reader’s advisory, and patrons can take advantage of the new time saving service when there is a crowd of patrons waiting for help at the desk.

Ann Day is the chief librarian at the Creston and District Public Library.