Arabic Books on My Bookshelf


root: ر-ف-ف / noun / plural: رُفوف / definition: shelf

While you can see eight neatly-arranged books on my tiny bedside tea shelf in the photo above, in reality, the term “bookshelf” in the title is somewhat metaphorical. Yes, some of these books are arranged on one of my actual bookshelves. But others migrate around my room on a daily basis, journeying from desk to chair, from surface to surface.

Anyway, the point is that I have books. And there are eight Arabic books in particular, of different types, that I’ve found really useful and wanted to share. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Standard Arabic: An Advanced Course

I bought the textbook Standard Arabic: An Advanced Course by James Dickins and Janet C.E. Watson not too long after my graduation.

I haven’t been using it consistently by any means, but it has given structure to my independent studying—guiding me through translations, comprehension and listening tasks (audio can be found online), and various materials.

Unlike most other textbooks, this one doesn’t spoon-feed you vocabulary in the form of lists. Instead, it prompts you to create your own vocabulary lists at the start of each chapter (which, in my opinion, is a much better way to learn at an advanced stage), which you add to as you go through the texts.

Each chapter focuses on a different topic and presents you with real-life texts, both modern and classical.

The highlight? I think the grammar/stylistics sections are amazing. They cover specific structures/grammar rules and discuss stylistic nuances—and all of the examples they use are from the texts in the book.

2. How to Write in Arabic

I’ve found El Mustapha Lahlali’s book How to Write in Arabic to be a really great reference for when you’re writing any text in Arabic, or translating into it.

It guides you through appropriate styles and features of different Arabic text types (letters, arguments, summaries, etc) and provides helpful stylistic tips/expressions to make your writing more sophisticated.

How do you begin a formal letter? What other connectives can you use to avoid writing لذلك fifty times in one paragraph? How does punctuation differ in Arabic texts? You’ll find all of your answers in this little book.

Towards the end, there’s also a section that shows you numerous Arabic expressions which will definitely make your writing sound more eloquent and native-like!

3. Arabic for Nerds 2

Gerald Drißner’s Arabic for Nerds 2… what can I say that I haven’t already said in my post about this book last month?

It’s brilliant and a must-have for lovers of Arabic grammar. End of.

4. A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic

A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic by Karin C. Ryding is very comprehensive.

I’m always plucking this book from my shelf to look up different grammar rules and everything is so clear, precise, and followed by multiple examples.

I think this is one of those books that are useful for most learners, regardless of how much grammar you’ve learnt so far.

(This book is a lot pricier than a lot of other grammar books you’ll find. But, I do think that it’s well worth it if you’re studying Arabic for the long-term. Maybe shop around a bit for this one.)

5. Advanced Arabic Literary Reader

We hadn’t been exposed to that much Arabic literature at university, but I knew that it was something I definitely wanted to explore.

So I eventually bought the book Advanced Arabic Literary Reader by Jonas M. Elbousty and Muhammad Ali Aziz after browsing various literary readers and feeling unsure as to whether I’d really benefit from them.

I actually think that this book is great for students at an advanced level with their Arabic (the whole book is in Arabic, by the way) who—like I did—want to be introduced to authentic and varied pieces of literature from all over the Arab world.

The background and synopsis (both in Arabic) before each text are a particularly helpful addition.

Dealing with such varied literary texts will undoubtedly take your grip on vocabulary to the next level (i.e. get prepared to look in the dictionary more often than you’d think).

6. Essential Arabic Vocabulary

To be quite honest, I can’t remember my exact thought process when picking up Mourad Diouri’s Essential Arabic Vocabulary from Waterstones.

Nevertheless, it has proved remarkably useful for me personally.

All of the vocabulary is organised into relevant topics, and the book is pretty up-to-date; so, for instance, you’ll find translations for words like “app”, “hashtag”, or “blogger” in the Media chapter.

7. ألف شمس ساطعة

This one’s a novel.

I had read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini in English years ago. And after I graduated, I thought: why not give myself a little challenge?

So I bought the Arabic translation, ألف شمس ساطعة. And I’m very glad I did.

Like every other book in this list (except #8), I don’t read it very consistently at all. But when I do, I find that (a) I’m learning so many synonyms and new pieces of vocabulary and (b) I’m consolidating my knowledge.

If you can find the Arabic translation of a novel you love, I’d recommend getting it.

8. The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic

How could I finish a list of Arabic books without mentioning my daily read, the Hans Wehr dictionary?

Although I admire that red and gold book sitting on my shelf… I mostly use the Hans Wehr app or, less frequently, this website. It still counts, though.

Which Arabic books have you found most useful? Let us know in the comments!

See you on the next post, إلى اللقاء.

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