A Guide to Dubai’s Best Second-hand Bookshops

Posted on July 26, 2012


As written for The National, UAE (July 26, 2012)

My definition of a glorious (yes, glorious) Saturday morning; 6 hours, 4 stores and a personal acquisition of 6 titles later = a round-up and critique of the top second-hand book stores in Dubai + the most fun I’ve had on a writing assignment in a long time. 

Bibliophiles in Dubai are spoilt for choice when it comes to places selling the week’s bestseller or even a brand-new copy of a classic read – be it from the home-grown brand Magrudy’s, the Japanese bookstore giant Kinokuniya, or the miscellany of outlets in between.

For some readers, however, prices of brand-new books are too steep for comfort, and with shelves of personal libraries to fill, many wouldn’t mind a slightly dog-eared copy if it means paying considerably less.

Below is a tried-and-tested pick of the city’s best second-hand bookstores, for the bargain-hungry literati of Dubai.


House of Prose, Jumeirah Plaza

House of Prose claims to be the veteran of second-hand bookshops in the city, and quite possibly is with its pioneering outlet having aged gracefully to the wise old age of 15. Following an increase in demand for cheap literature, HoP has since opened another branch in the Dubai Garden Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road.

The wooden-shelved aisles are well categorised and the interior makes you forget that you are in fact not in a corner bookstore in an obscure European city, but in one of the smaller shopping centres in Dubai.

In addition to the regular used titles at an average going rate of Dh20, the store has compiled discounted book sets it calls “bundle offers” for the same rate or less. These are non-returnable, of course, but all other books finding their way back to the store are entitled to a 50 per cent ransom back.

A more antiquarian, dog-eared selection can be scavenged from a potluck-type basket (all for under Dh5), but the rest of the shelves seem to have enforced some level of quality control.

HoP also offers a 10 per cent discount on certain books, provided you allow it to be marked with a “No Return” stamp, but since it doesn’t promote the deal outwardly, you’ll have to ask.

We loved: the considerate positioning of sitting stools at every aisle for the added browsing pleasure of determined shelf-scanners.

Working hours: Jumeirah Plaza, Saturday to Thursday, 9am-8pm; Fridays, 5.30pm-8pm. Dubai Garden Centre, daily from 9am-9pm. Call Jumeirah Plaza 04 344 9021. Dubai Garden Centre 04 340 0006


Book World, Satwa

Discreetly tucked away in a Satwa by-lane, this city secret houses the most eclectic collection of the lot. It’s deliciously musty with crammed, floor-to-ceiling sliding shelves of literary curiosities, so the serious book-browser should expect to spend more time than initially bargained for.

Categorisation isn’t exactly meticulous (a biography of L L Cool J under sports personalities?), but the joy is in the discovery of a much sought-after title where you least expect it.

In addition to the usual suspects, buyers can choose from popular titles in foreign languages to how-to guides on tarot card reading. Back issues of National Geographic magazine share space with stacks of comic books and dust-ridden encyclopedias fight for shelf room with a wide selection of Mills & Boon romance novels.

Conditions of novels for sale vary from spanking new to the held-together-with-a-rubber-band variety and are priced accordingly, ranging from Dh5 to Dh50 for a paperback. You get half your money back on every returned book.

We loved: although prices are marked, there is room to haggle.

Working hours: Saturday to Thursday, 9.30am-10am; Fridays, 3pm-10am. Call 04 349 1914


Book ‘N’ Bean, Ace Hardware

A non-enclosed alcove in a large hardware store is an odd location for a book store, but the set-up at Book ‘N’ Bean is surprisingly cosy.

A spin-off of House of Prose, this branch’s additional offering is the coffee-shop extension, with free Wi-Fi to boot. A cup of coffee while you browse and an internet connection with which to look up your online booklist is easily book-browsing hospitality at its finest.

All books are in good to excellent condition and are categorised alphabetically by author name. Though the shop claims to have priced books from Dh4, the average minimum cost of a paperback seems to be Dh20. The week’s brand-new bestsellers also have a few shelves reserved in their name, but with regular bookstore price tags. To make up for this, however, each “brand new” book comes with a free novel (from a selected stock) and 25 per cent of your money back on its return. The safe return of second-hand books is rewarded with a sweeter deal of 50 per cent off the buying price back in your pocket.

We loved: the loyalty card that comes with every purchase. Nine books/cups of coffee purchased, and a book is yours for free.

Working hours: Saturday to Wednesday, 9am-10pm; Thursday to Friday, 9am-midnight. Call 04 232 699


The Old Library, Ductac

As the name suggests, The Old Library (previously the English Lending Library) is just that, a lending library that’s as old as the city it resides in.

A non-profit, old-fashioned lending library, The Old Library’s one shelf of used novels for sale looks slightly starved of tomes – though in its defence, the library’s focus is the richly stocked selection on offer to members, children, teenagers and adults alike. The annual subscription fee is a reasonable Dh200 (plus Dh50 joining fee), and even price tags on the second-hand books were a bargain, ranging from Dh2 to Dh15.

More fulfilling than the selection, though, is the fascinating history behind the library. Launched in 1969 from the personal collection of the wife of a British officer stationed in Dubai, The Old Library has since changed names and operated out of a Portacabin in Jumeirah before finally moving to its current location in 2006.

We loved: The helpfulness of library staff, all unpaid volunteers.

Working hours: Saturday to Thursday, 10am-6pm. Closed on Fridays and public holidays. Call 04 341 4777 ext 207