Why don't we have a perfect bookshop?
With the right property in relatively sound condition and an ideal location, the rest is easily achievable. The shop would have a small core staff supported by a revolving team of aspiring writers and book lovers who were visiting the city and, in return for their help, would be allowed to sleep among the book stacks at night, like the Tumbleweeds at Shakespeare and Company, who get a bed during their stay in Paris in return for helping out for a few hours each day and overseeing the evening events before locking up, at 11pm. Their presence in the building, reading or writing their own masterpieces, brings life to the building and adds security.
It might take a year or so for this chaotic, idiosyncratic home of impassioned bibliophiles to develop a reputation among travellers and readers. I’d foresee a New York Times feature on it within a year, and some boho Guardian journalist would probably be sleeping on the floor before the doors even opened.
Soon there would be no difficulty attracting the best of writers to give intimate readings each evening. They would not be paid – which might encourage the writers to try to make their readings interesting for a change, to attract buyers, rather than to follow the convention that distinguished writers must imply in their manner of reading that the task is beneath them.
Suddenly tourists would have something to do each night that didn’t involve alcohol.
After the first year the shop could launch a literary competition and perhaps invite one of the main literary journals – the Dublin Review, the Stinging Fly or Irish Pages – to share its premises. Once it has settled into itself it could start a boutique imprint, publishing a choice selection of titles it believed passionately in.
It would then be only a matter of time before the next Joyce or Beckett shuffled through its doors and the little bookshop-cum-publisher took a deep breath before daring to publish his or her brilliant but dangerous work. The rest is the history of the future, waiting to be written.
The one final question is who will be the brave, crazy, selfless, inspirational person who’ll lead this Utopia? All I can say is that this vision was first described to me by Lisa Hannigan, days after she herself had sung her heart out at a tiny gig at Shakespeare and Company. Lisa, it’s up to you now.