Alexandria University Subject: Writing
Faculty of Education Time: Three hours
English Department September 2003
I-COMPREHENSION: Read the passage then answer the following questions in our own language as much as possible.
If I book is a man's dearest companion, then Amm Amin has thousands of them. Buried behind stacks of yellowing used books at Attaba's Ezbekeya stalls, the veteran bookseller has had the pleasure of their company for the past 48 years "I used to read voraciously until my eyes went All the new works I could get my hands on I would read Now, I can barely make out the names on the spines/' Despite his failing eyesight, Amm Amin still knows his books, picking up instinctively on which works customers are interested in just by the first title they ask for "But my customers have changed just like everything else," he says with a sigh, "There once used to be people who would stop by daily, sometimes up to three or four times, to browse the stalls Every four hours a new publication would come out and readers would eagerly await the editions. One of my patrons was Hassan Abbas Zaki, former minister of economy He was a regular He would meet with all of his literary friends everyday before sunset and they would read the new books and hold a literary salon of sorts at the stalls until 10 or 11pm. He was very Interested in Sufism at the time.
"These people, this cultured generation, there aren't any of them left. I remember how, the first day of summer vacation, women would converge at these stalls with their sons and daughters to stock up on summer readings Now all kids want are their computer games and Game Boys Today people have no use for a book unless it's for their Masters or Doctorate degree, No one reads for recreation Just look around Ezbekeya at these empty stalls, and then go look at any fuul stand and see how many people are there in comparison." There may be more money to be had in selling fuul, but the used book still has its appeal. "There are some books that have gone out of print," explains Amm Amin "Others, such as Islamic history and culture books, are no longer written. There are no new editions of these so readers are forced to turn to used volumes,"
For others who frequent the stalls, it's all about nostalgia. One visitor, who had accompanied ha U S.-based friend to Ezbakeya in search of controversial Islamist thinker Sayed Qutb’s writings, was delighted to find an edition of one of his old schoolbooks, "Look what I found!" he exclaimed gleefully, "It’s Domby and Sons, which I read in school in the 1900s It's a really old edition, printed in 1960," he babbled excitedly "It really takes me back, For me used books are always associated with childhood" But there's no denying the financial pull of used books, which can sell for as little as 60pt "The cultured are the richest of people, unfortunately they are always the poorest too," comments Amm Arnin, "Fifty-odd years ago I sold books for as little as one taareifa [half a piaster] so people would be able to buy But the financial situation today is beyond belief . People don't even have the money to feed themselves, lei alone read Books are the last things on their minds And it’s not just the cost of living, as In food and clothes private lessons have sucked up everything. There's never anything left over for books." Of course there are also the substitutes that offer a much more convenient - and thought-free - means of information consumption. "There's no need for the written word anymore It started with the radio and then TV, now the Internet Photography, visual coverage, all of these have brought the world closer to us, so there is no real need to pick up a book for information for such a shame. We have books in all fields, really priceless books, but no one is buying,"
Sales are so low Amm Amin and others like him are worried for their livelihood. "Bookselling as a profession is dying out," he says sadly. "It's like the tarboush maker and the kabees [gas stove mender], even the tailor. But it's a beautiful occupation that has never been easy. They told me when I first started that this job needed the patience of Job, the wealth of Aaron and the long life of Noah. Today, that's still very true. But you also have to have good health to be able to go around fishing out good buys and stacking the stalls." Over the years Amm Amin has come to discover that his job needs mental stamina as well. "The toughest thing I have had to deal with is seeing how people's relationships with books have changed. Before, books were priceless possessions, treated with respect and never easily forsaken. Just a few days ago, I saw a group of kids stuffing their schoolbooks into a garbage can. It just broke my heart. I'm rather ashamed to admit I actually cried, I couldn't control the tears. I thought to myself, books are what teach these kids what they know. If this is how they [the books] are rewarded, what will they give back their parents, for example?" Which is not to say Amm Amin has much faith in the education system. "I fought hard until all six of my children graduated. We're talking 16 years of study for each, that's just under 100 years of exams and lessons between them. Today, none of them are working in their fields. One son, who graduated from law school, is selling underwear in Attaba and another, a commerce graduate, is working at a sweet shop. Do these jobs need BAs? We poor never get anywhere without connections - and unfortunately we have none." But it's not just the unemployment issue, it's the quality of education (or lack of it) that's upsetting the bookseller. "People who graduate from school nowadays don't know anything," he believes. "They don't even know how to hold a decent conversation." The problem, he feels, starts straight at the top. "Why is the Ministry of Education the only one that never appoints an educator, one of its own, to head it? Why do pediatricians and lawyers know more about education than teachers, headmasters and supervisors? This is what has brought the education system down. Educational standards are at an all-time low. It's a tragedy, and trying to get people to self-educate themselves through independent reading will never work now. It's too late. People don't have the money, let alone the inclination."
And why no desire to read? According to Amm Amin, it all boils down to credibility. "The government and the writers have lost credibility. There's no trust. No one believes what is being written so people have stopped reading altogether. Today writing has become commercial, just like everything else."So much for current publications. So does this mean we should never let go of our old books? "Sometimes you have to give up certain books because you run out of storage space," Amm Amin advises. "And then sometimes when you look at the books you've kept for years, you realize you'll never want to read them again because you've outgrown them. What you were reading at 20 is not what you'll be looking for at, say 40 or 50. You become wiser, you have broader horizons. I know someone who used to buy all the books he could get his hands on when he was young, so that he'd have enough to read when he retired. But that doesn't really make sense. Essentially you aspire to higher culture."
- How has the reading public changed? Give Examples.
- Mention some of the reasons why some people still frequent the Ezbekeya book stalls.
- What are the two main reasons that Amm Amin state are behind people's reluctance to buy books and read?
- How is the Ministry of Education to blame?
- What do the underlined words mean?
CHOOSE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING TOPICS TO WRITE ABOUT:
- "If a society is to flourish , it must put its own overall success before the well-being of its individual citizens."
- Write a narrative piece in which you imagine what it would be like if Romeo and Juliet were around today.