Little Arabia is best known for its stretch of restaurants along Brookhurst Street serving Orange County’s best Middle Eastern dishes, but a separate type of feast is found at the ethnic enclave’s southernmost tip. Jarir Bookstore in Garden Grove is the intellectual hub of the local Arab-American and Muslim community, with rows of books stacked almost all the way up to the ceiling. “We probably have 15,000 titles at any given time,” says owner Jarir Saadoun, for whom the store is named. “The kids books section is our biggest. That’s the future, right?”
To the right of the store’s entrance, English readers will find books on Middle Eastern history, Islam and Christianity. Towards the back rests its most visually stunning collection, classical hadith and fiqh texts of the Muslim faith. The hardcover volumes of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings (hadith) and Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) beautifully bind together with Arabic calligraphy. “I think Arabic is the most literary language in the world, and in medieval times, Islam was the keeper of knowledge” Saadoun says.
During that epoch, Islamic scholars helped preserve Greek texts by translating them into Arabic. They also added commentary on philosophical texts from Plato and Aristotle. “We only have a small fraction of what’s actually is out there,” he says.
Around the bend, stacks of books explore different sects of Islam from Shia studies to Sufi mysticism. The Holy Quran is the most translated work available at Jarir.
“We almost have every major language, about 50 translations in all,” says Saadoun, a soft-spoken Lebanese-American and avid reader himself. But further down the rows, the selections in Arabic become more mainstream with contemporary favorites like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and classics like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird. Like other bookstores, Jarir offers CDs and DVDs with a listening station filled with Arabic music and a shelf with Egyptian-produced movies.
Jarrir is to the local Arab-American and Muslim community what Libreria Martinez Books & Art Gallery in SanTana was to Latinos. Saadoun’s father first opened a book-shipping warehouse out of Irvine in 1992. People dropped by to buy books in person and pleaded for a storefront. Jarir opened its current Garden Grove location in 2003, where its stayed ever since.
Unlike other independent bookstores in OC, Jarir survived the crushing effects of the Great Recession and Amazon’s online sales. Inventory dropped by 40 percent during those trying times, but Saadoun micro-managed his way through by taking less book orders and negotiating discounts; a plan that worked in keeping the doors open. “We also had a website before Amazon,” he says, referring Jarir’s Alkitab website. The bookstore makes most of its money from online shopping and bulk orders from schools across the nation and the world.
But Jarir contributes to offline literary culture by doing the book fair rounds, hosting author events and art workshops. Saadoun even serves complimentary tea and dates to customers in a display of Arab hospitality. Customers from all walks of life walk through the bookstore’s doors. “I’m thinking of one customer in particular,” Saadoun says of a man who favors the tomes of Hegel, Freud and Mann. “He comes almost every week and buys three or four books and he reads them!” Spider-Man comics, Disney princess books and young adult literature like the Twilight saga appeals to parents who want their children to learn Arabic.
And in these Islamophobic times, there’s no better place to read and dispel myths about Muslims. “We have books about Islam that aren’t going to tell you what you’re going to hear on the news or from politicians,” Saadoun says. “We even get evangelicals who want to find some big secret that proves Islam is wrong. Everybody’s welcome, anyway. If you want to find out about something, you’ve got to come to my bookstore.”
Jarir Bookstore, 11107 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 539-8100; jarirbooksusa.com. Mon-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!