For 22 years, book lovers who stumble upon this unassuming independent bookstore have been captivated by its treasure trove of titles and unique book-swapping scheme.
Take a walk down the beach or through one of the resorts in Muscat and you may come across people relaxing and reading on their kindles or iPads. It’s true that these days, paper books have been superseded with tablets, but nothing can truly replace the printed version of the written word and the feel of the pages as they turn.
If you are looking for a specific book, the chances of finding a printed copy in Muscat are really based on luck. While there are many franchise bookshops in the city, the selection is rather generic as these shops typically carry a uniform selection. The variety of the books also remains fairly static throughout the year, with the exception of popular new releases or best sellers. So resorting to purchasing digital copies makes sense.
If you aren’t an avid reader, or maybe are just new in town, you might not know that there are a few alternative bookshops in Muscat where you may just be lucky enough to come across something you’ve been wanting to read.
I’ve always been interested in people and their stories and thus, I’m drawn to books with interesting characters, fiction and non-fiction alike, including biographies, historical books and religious texts. This usually means that while I have a very long list of books I’d like to read, I rarely find them in mainstream mall bookshops.
The pleasure of reading starts well before I open the book. It begins the moment I enter a good bookshop and start roaming through its dusty rows. I spend hours reading covers, first chapters, and reviews online of books that catch my eye. Here in Muscat, that bookshop is the House of Prose.
Located in Al Wadi Commercial Center in Qurum, House of Prose has been serving readers in Muscat for nearly 22 years. This longstanding bookshop was originally opened in 1993 by an American expatriate, Mike McGinley, who has been living and working in the Middle East since 1984.
As a lover of books, McGinley was inspired to open the shop when he noticed the lack of secondhand bookshops in the Sultanate. Though after ten years, McGinley (who currently owns two House of Prose bookstores in the UAE), sold the Oman location to another expat who then sold it to its current Omani owner, the shop still implements the original unique House of Prose model.
The concept of the store differs from other shops in the city with a ‘half back’ policy. Inside each book is the House of Prose stamp and any book purchased from the House of Prose (bearing that stamp) may be sold back upon completion for half of what was paid for it.
Though readers are able to get cash back, the concept is meant to encourage people to use the ‘half back’ as credit to purchase their next read from the store, as well as to continue to make books available at discounted prices for other readers.
“What I liked about the bookshop is the concept. I don’t like stocking up books in my house,” said Sreedevi Mohandasbinoy, an MBA student at the College of Banking and Financial Studies.
“Once I read it I need to dispose it all and you get a good deal with House of Prose. For someone who is interested in reading, they like to keep on reading a lot. So once you come here, you buy a book, you finish reading, you’re done with it, you bring it back, and you can take another book.”
The House of Prose prides itself on being able to offer thousands of pre-loved books covering a variety topics for 50 baisas to OMR 4, extremely reasonable prices compared to franchise bookshops. And most of the books are in near new condition.
With about 10,000 books in stock, an array of genres are always available, with new additions each week. “There is a great variety of books and you can find anything,” said Sohrab Tajadin, a customer who has been shopping at the House of Prose for over two years.
While some books come from a supplier, many are pre-loved, exchanged, or donated by individuals who are moving or just looking to clear out some of their books. House of Prose will also buy your books if they are in demand. Once they’ve been priced, the customer can get 50 per cent of the value in store credit.
“We want to promote reading habits and bring more awareness,” said Sreedevi Mohandasbinoy, who now volunteers her time at the House of Prose.
Most patrons seemed to have come across the store haphazardly through word of mouth or a lucky google search.
“I had heard of it and knew it was somewhere in this area,” Jessica Williams said of her first visit. “It is better than spending money on brand new books, which here can be pretty expensive if you read as much as I do.”
But, with only 425 likes on their Facebook page, the staff and management at House of Prose know they need to increase their following and awareness of the shop in general. To this end, they recently hosted their first children’s story time book reading and plan to continue adding more community activities.
Once readers learn about the shop, they are hooked. Williams echoed the sentiments of all the House of Prose customers, saying, “For someone like me who goes through books pretty fast, a shop like this is great.”
House of Prose
Al Wadi Commercial Center, 2nd Floor, Qurum, Muscat, Oman, +968 9380 3435, Hours: 9:00am-1:00pm, 4:00pm-8:00pm facebookcom/HouseofProseBookshop