Dubai: A small bookshelf, tucked away in a corner of a buzzing community mall - Book Hero stalls are always a welcome sight to readers in the UAE.
With books of all kinds from bestsellers to rare finds, these unmanned stalls function on an honour system, a system of payment which relies solely on the honesty of the customer.
A blue box with the words "pay here" sits near the many books neatly arranged on the shelves. Yellow and green stickers on the books indicate their prices - Dh10 and Dh20, respectively.
Book lovers instantly flock to the bookshelves, some just to look, while the more regular visitors pick their treasures and deposit the money in the box.
Speaking to Gulf News, Montserrat Martin, one of the co-founders of Book Hero said: “Sometimes we get notes inside the boxes saying we took two books, we had no money, we will come back tomorrow to pay... We allow people that margin of honesty. It keeps the cost of the location lower thus the cost of books lower."
A growing community of book lovers
What started as an initiative to save unwanted books and abandoned pets, today is a community of over 15,000 regular book lovers.
“Some readers come visit us from as far as Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, and Sharjah. We have regulars coming from far places,” Martin said.
Explaining how Book Hero started, she said: “We combined the two things that get abandoned easily when people move - books and pets. We went on to sell books, help animals, and slowly went on to help people in need."
The store was co-founded by Martin, with Mohammed Al Qubaisi, an Emirati book lover, in 2016 at Sports City.
“The idea has always been to promote reading. Reading has no boundaries, no nationalities, no countries.”
Now, at all Book Hero stores across Dubai and Abu Dhabi, second-hand and new books are sold at the cost of Dh10 or Dh20.
“When you can find beautiful books for Dh10 and 20. You are not paying Dh600 books to buy five books, you just need Dh100. That’s a big difference,” Martin added.
Making books affordable
Federico Reyes, a Filipino expatriate based in Dubai uses his tea break at work to take a walk to the Book Hero bookshelf at The Greens Souk in The Views. “I go to Book Hero three times a week, I work near here in Onyx Towers. Whenever I am on break I come here and look at books. And, if something piques my interest, I buy it and at night I read it. It calms my mind and keeps me entertained."
“It’s such a great initiative making books accessible and affordable. I’ve started buying more often here and I will soon have a collection to pass on to my son and to gift to my family and friends when I go back home to the Philippines.”
Reyes explores his talent in cooking through books that he found at the Book Hero. He added: “Other than personal health books, I read cookbooks. Pointing to a cookbook by Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor, Reyes said: “This cooking book... I have three in this series already. It teaches me how to cook basic Indian food. Probably, I will have my Indian restaurant in the Philippines. Reading helps my mind and helps me develop my talent.”
Megan Ratcliffe a British expatriate who works in Dubai as a Math teacher added: “I think I am quite a big reader, I read at least two books a month, which is a lot for someone who is working full time. I was surprised by how expensive books were in the UAE. But, Book Hero makes books affordable.
"It has helped me diversify my reading. Normally, at a bookstore, I would usually pick up books by British female authors. But, coming to these stores gave me access to books donated from all across the world. For instance, Maya Angelou’s book was something I had never picked before. Once, I picked up a book set in Singapore... at a time that I was going on a holiday to Singapore. It helped me connect with the place.
"And, often, when I am walking by a Book Hero stall, I think if there’s a book my friend will like. It’s a sustainable way of sharing the joy of reading," she added.
Shamsuddin Nasritdinov, another Dubai-based expatriate said: “Book Hero makes it very convenient to find good books at cheap prices. It helps the community by giving us more access to reading... cheaper access. Otherwise, you have to travel to other locations or malls. I am very glad that in my community that we have such a point to share our books.”
Camille Simon, a French expatriate who often stops at the Book Hero cafe in Umm Suqeim loves how the stalls ensure that books don't end up in landfills. "It's such a wonderful initiative that is reselling old books and extending the life of the book. This way, these books can be passed down to different people before being forgotten forever."
Helping the community
Speaking about the various projects undertaken by Book Hero, Martin added: “We are a company that has not so much profit and shares whatever profit helping the community.”
Book Hero also supports abandoned pets. “We, directly and indirectly, finance around 1,600 cats per year,” Martin added.
“We set up libraries for workers, we send books to refugee camps, to countries in need. When traveling on holiday they can take as many kilos of books they can carry and give it to NGOs (non-governmental organisations).”