It’s said that knowledge is power – and the best way to sustain knowledge is through books. To some of our millennial readers – we’re referring to actual books – you know the one with the front and back cover and the tangible pages – not to be confused with your iPad or Nook. Only a few years ago, the launch of a book would garner block-long queues. Now, their electronic versions can simply be downloaded and enjoyed. While our passion for the electronic increases, our love for original imagination on the written page decreases. Whether you want to admit it or not, there is a difference between reading a book on a device where you can easily exit and use your web browser – or physically holding a book that allows you to get lost in the story. But in this age of page versus screen, where are the people that hunt down first editions like their life depended on it? That was our mission and to get answers we visited Nawader, one of Beirut’s hidden bookstores, specialized in rare and precious books.
Owned by Jihad Kadri Kalaaji, Nawader is one of the first bookstores in Lebanon to start collecting and selling those hard to find pieces. Jihad has had a passion for books ever since he could remember. Being the son of a writer, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Jihad has currently published a total of 9 books and another 2 on the way. He has a strict policy about which books he deals with, he explained, “I don’t deal with a wounded book, that is torn and ripped, I always search for an elegant book that still wears its spring clothes even if its 200-300 years old.” You can tell from the passion in his eyes that he takes his books and literature very seriously – and that passion was exactly what we were looking for. He opened his store exactly 12 years ago with books ranging from philosophical books to religious ones. For Jihad, he views a beautiful book as precious and sacred as a woman’s body, or the ocean – something that he cherishes deeply. Even though his father didn’t help open his store he had an intense spiritual effect, which left an everlasting impression.
In the middle of the interview we paused and looked around to see the vast amount of books that covered the shelves – from a far, we could have sworn they were antiques and works of art. Most were first editions and extremely rare. So rare, that Jihad and his business partner Batoul Abdo travel to different countries, such as England and France, to search for these valuable treasures. They can proudly say that they are the only book store that really gets involved with their books and are completely hands on. They are willing to search far and wide for the right one and their collection speaks for itself. When we asked if it was difficult to find these books Batoul answered, “No, because I know exactly where to go especially when I travel, however, if it is a specific first edition you are looking for the hunt is a bit difficult and expensive.” What really blew our mind was the hand written Quran in gold script that costs $4,000. After seeing that, we understood what Jihad meant by precious. The rare and precious books can vary from $1,000 all the way to $20,000 – talk about collector’s items.
After being caught in a bit of a culture shock with the immense beauty of each book we were suddenly brought back to reality and had to ask the question that suddenly seemed so irrelevant: “How do you feel about people downloading books rather than buying hard copies?” With a smile Batoul answered: “It’s unfortunate that the books being produced today won’t have meaning in a couple of years and soon people won’t feel the need to buy books, but the antiques are something else – and the illustrations in them are phenomenal. Even though through these technological advances the book is losing its value, it will never die out. People are gaining their knowledge in an intangible way and it’s hard when you’re a bookseller – but even still, the book will never die.”
The underrated importance of books was brought to our attention when Jihad gave one spine chilling example: “ In most of the past wars the first thing they do is burn the libraries, because once that is done, all written proof of your heritage is gone, and that’s as if your identity is gone as well.”
To some, books restore humanity and allow you to evolve as a person through different characters – they teach you to be a hopeless romantic, or a comedian, or whatever you want to be as long as you have your imagination.
Nawader reminded us of the saying “Never judge a book by its cover”, simply because while we were surrounded by so many of them today, we couldn’t help but look at their beautiful bindings and covers and feel that all of them must be one heck of a read.
If you would like to visit Nawader and discover his endless collection of rare and precious books, visit the bookstore in Starco Center, Downtown.