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A love letter to bookshops.

4 January 2016

From author Kerrie O’Brien via The Irish Times:

I went to a reading in The Village Bookshop in Terenure a few weeks ago. A small, beautiful independent bookshop I hadn’t been to before. It reminded me of my Irish Writers’ Centre days – hoping people would come, hoping you haven’t put out too many chairs, hoping you might sell some books, washing the wine glasses afterwards, locking up late. The miraculous nights when I was lucky enough to sit in the presence of Leland Bardwell, Paula Meehan, Sebastian Barry, Matthew Sweeney, Seamus Heaney.

More importantly it reminded me of how bookshops have been pivotal in my life.

If I hadn’t developed a love of reading I might not have gone to college and I certainly wouldn’t be a writer. Bookshops made this possible. In the summers I used to go with my mother to the various places she worked and spend the day in second-hand ones – mainly the Readers Bookshop in Dún Laoghaire and the old damp basement of Chapters on Abbey Street. They would let you exchange books so I could basically read as much as I wanted and, back then and as a young kid, I found they always had a much broader and more obscure collection than the libraries.

What I loved about these shops was their intimacy. People don’t open independent or secondhand bookstores to make money – they do it because they love books and they love talking to people about them. The conversations I had with these booksellers stayed with me for life. There’s a certain magic to these moments – like when a man excitedly put a freshly published copy of Cloud Atlas in my hands in the tiny Books On The Green in Sandymount. You get a similar thrill when you recommend an incredible book to a stranger in work or a friend and know that they will love it. When I finish a really great book I usually want to stand on a rooftop screaming OHMYGOD EVERYONE HAS TO READ THIS NOW. I’ve never had such in a feeling with regard to films, art, music or even food – always books.

. . . .

 I remember when I was 17 spending a whole day upstairs in the old cafe of The Winding Stair when it still had red gingham oil cloths and you would literally trip over dusty books all over the place. I sat drinking cheap mugs of tea by a window looking over the Liffey. My mother and I had been in a small car crash in the snow a few days before and instead of going to school I spent a day in a bookshop reading the Aeneid. I remember the brightness of the winter light and feeling glad to still be alive. It doesn’t surprise me that of all the places I could have gone that day I chose to go to a bookshop.

. . . .

 Bookshops have also been hugely important to me as a writer. I will never forget the kindness of Ruth Webster in Books Upstairs when I brought out my poetry chapbook – not only did she sell it without hesitation, she promoted it, continuously ordered more and paid me. When I was 25 I lived in Paris for a few months and on my last week there they asked me to read at Shakespeare and Co. I was totally broke by then and the reading ended up being on my birthday and they took me for dinner that night.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times


8 Comments to “A love letter to bookshops.”

  1. Stop. Please. Just stop.

    One more love letter to book stores, one more weepy bit of homage to the smell of books, and I can’t be responsible for the actions of my stomach.

  2. I will never forget the kindness of Ruth Webster in Books Upstairs when I brought out my poetry chapbook – not only did she sell it without hesitation, she promoted it, continuously ordered more and paid me.

    Gee, Amazon does that for me routinely, and not as an act of kindness.

    When you have to perform a special act of kindness to live up to the standard that is business as usual for your competition, it might be time to find another line of work.

  3. Some bookstores are very cool and welcoming places. Not only do they have a zillion book-lined shelves, they have some good and helpful people behind the counter. I have no problem reading this kind of homage. Kind of like it, actually. 🙂

    Back to reading Linda Gillard’s CAULDSTANE on my Paperwhite.

  4. This is the past. For a few people.

    Of course those who had it are nostalgic. Nothing wrong with that, especially if the rest of their life at the time was crummy.

    It is not the present. And it is not the future. And everyone will deal with that with whatever resources they have for change. Some people can’t or won’t change; we leave them behind. If they can support themselves with handcrafted buggywhips, great. If not, the world isn’t going to turn around and return to horses and buggies for them or anyone, and they are going to be unhappy.

    I taught my children, as I homeschooled them, that their most important trait had to be their flexibility and their ability to learn new stuff, because the days of getting set up in business in a single field, and staying there while supporting a family to the end of their days is OVER. For everyone.

    No one can afford to be a steelworker forever now.

    It was never that perfect (just as the single dwelling family occupied by two parents of opposite genders where the dad worked had MANY exceptions in its day); it is less perfect now. By far.

    Bookstores that supported writers by selling their poetry chapbooks sound unbelievably quaint – and fanstastical. I doubt that was her sole source of income, even then.

  5. I bet that letter was postmarked from Cabot Cove.

  6. Kissy. Kisssy. Huggy. Huggy.

    Oh, please stock my book. Pretty please with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

    You won’t? {cry, sob, sniffle, moan}… 🙁

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