... gorgeous, entertaining ... celebrates the remarkable success of the venture while sharing with humble honesty and wry humor the personal and professional challenges it created for the author ... Wassef's debut brims with wistfully elegant musings on the consolation and inspiration offered by literature, and the power struggles of parenting two young daughters while serving at the helm of Diwan's expanding empire. She places Diwan's inauguration and evolution in the colorful context of Egypt's fluctuating social and political climate, the expansion of the bookstore and the variety of its offerings mirroring the shifting tastes of Cairo's reading public ... From a visionary who is passionate about the written word, Wassef's memoir is both an intimate reckoning with motherhood, marriage and feminism and a thoughtful meditation on Egyptian literary culture and history.
The richness of Wassef’s debut makes it a hard one to categorize ... Diwan is the central character in a compelling narration that is also a cultural history, a diary of an entrepreneur, a catalogue of the best of Egyptian literature, and a commentary on living and leading as women in a contemporary Egypt turbulent with change ... Wassef’s tone is both lyrical and conversational, heartfelt, and honest ... A strength of Wassef’s writing is the ease with which she describes the textures of Egyptian life juxtaposed with critical commentary on its history and culture. The reader is immersed in sensory details ... In some ways, the book is a subjective history lesson told by an old friend over coffee who has a penchant for F-bombs ... The creation of Diwan and the writing of Shelf Life seems to be a response to that challenge presented in her formative years — as if Wassef is saying, here is the change I created, here is a successful woman in a man’s world. It’s the triumph of her enterprise and the book.
... this is not merely a book about a business venture, though readers will learn much about the ins and outs of the bookselling business. Wassef also describes the social and political climate of Egypt and the restrictions that women are faced with ... This is a personal story that tells much about a woman’s life in the Arab world and is well worth reading. Appropriate for most libraries.
[Wassef] paints a vivid image of the book industry in Cairo of nearly 20 years ago, when she entered the scene with her sister Hind (cofounder of Diwan), describing the harried world of publishing and the misogyny that working Egyptian women faced, as well as the streets and neighborhoods of her city ... Wassef’s toughness and honesty will endear her to readers, who will surely champion her throughout this chronicle spanning marriage and divorce, the Egyptian revolution of 2011, the country’s first democratic election, and the author’s eventual decision to leave her role at Diwan to make space for the new.
Wassef has dozens of sharp anecdotes about that reading public’s learning curve ... a heartfelt, biting, and often quite funny story of some of the best and worst that humanity has to offer. It’s the autobiography of a quiet, bookish revolution - one that’s ongoing.
... bold and humorous ... In chapters cleverly named after sections of the bookstore, she braids personal anecdotes, historical context, and day-to-day interactions with regulars (including the occasional disgruntled customer who tries to return a book purely because they didn’t like it). Occasionally, Wassef’s musings can feel disjointed as she toggles between these various modes, but her singular voice and witty observations make up for it. This is a book for book people, challenging the perspective of the traditional American and European publishing worlds with verve and style.