The beauty of a good bookshop – bookworms have their say
Rick O’Shea, Emer McLysaght and others on their favourite bookshops as children and adults
I know I tell this story often these days, but my love of books started and grew with trips I made most weekends in to Eason’s on O’Connell Street with my grandparents. We’d park behind Penneys, walk the length of Henry Street and then I’d be let loose to nose my way through whatever took my fancy that week.
I bought my way through my first proper obsession there (Enid Blyton’s Famous Five), then worked my way through the Secret Seven (they were fine but no substitute) before moving on to The Three Investigators and the Hardy Boys.
When I was about nine I read my first collection of Arthur C Clarke short stories in the school library, so they were my next seam to mine. He had written extensively, so that one kept me going for a long, long time.
I even, one day, got to meet the late, legendary Douglas Adams there and got my battered paperback copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy signed. These days I do public interviews there, and they host the annual Rick O’Shea Book Club Christmas party, so it’s a place that has always had a soft spot in my heart.
Rick O’Shea is a broadcaster and founder of the Rick O’Shea Book Club
Every Saturday morning as a child I would drag my mother up Naas main street to Nás Na Ríogh bookshop. It was small and stuffed to the gills. The second-hand section was second to none, and I would often resell my Famous Fives or Paula Danzigers back to the store and buy “new” ones to read into the wee small hours.
It was like a bonus library trip! My Complete Aisling coauthor, Sarah Breen, did her Saturday worshipping at the Book Centre in Kilkenny, feeding her love of stationery while she was there: “fancy cards and those little squidgy yokes to put on your pen to protect your fingers”.
Now, in our adopted home of Dublin, it’s the Gutter Bookshop, in Temple Bar, that satisfies our grown-up cravings. It’s a beautiful store, serene and yet intensely busy with books. They entice you in through the window and keep you in with thoughtfully laid-out sections, helpful staff, a speedy ordering system and, of course, the wonderful Bob Johnston at the helm.
Bob was incredibly kind and supportive to Sarah and me as fledgling authors, and what a thrill it is to see our books where all books belong… in the Gutter.
Emer McLysaght is author, with Sarah Breen, of the bestselling Aisling series
A number of bookshops have held a special place in my heart over the years. Waterstones on Patrick Street in Cork is one, and through their stock I learned everything from Greek poetry to how to cook a 30-minute meal. But, growing up in Ennis, in Co Clare, two shops had special significance for me. One was Sean Spellissy’s second-hand bookshop on Parnell Street.
I can remember saving up all my pocket money to buy every Stephen King title he had. A few years later on into my teens, when I was stuck for going-out money, I sold them all back to the shop – an action I still regret!
That shop is now sadly closed, but one in Ennis that remains open and vibrant is the wonderful Ennis Bookshop, on Abbey Street. I try to drop in any time I’m back in Clare. They have a real commitment to local and international authors.
Ten years ago, when I wrote my first book, they kindly invited me in to do a signing, and I’m back there with my second book, The Personals, in November. There’s nothing quite like sharing your work with locals, in a space you feel really comfortable in.
Brian O’Connell is reading at Waterstones in Cork on Thursday, October 31st, at 7pm as part of Irish Book Week, and will be signing at Ennis Bookshop, in Co Clare, on Saturday, November 9th, at 2pm
My favourite bookshop … Is it cheating if I have two? Both are Kilkenny-based – maybe that’s also cheating, since it’s my hometown, but how could I not pick the ones I grew up with? Childhood and bookshops go hand in hand for me.
The Book Centre on High Street in Kilkenny is where all my nostalgia attaches. I remember hiding in among the many shelves, reading books there, as a kid. The shop is in an old building typical of Kilkenny’s heritage. A large mahogany staircase winds up to what is now a restaurant on the first floor, and you can sit at the window reading while sneaking a nosy eye on the world passing by outside.
My second shop, Khans Books, is not as long on the scene as the first, but it’s equally as important. It’s a discount store and is packed sky high with all sorts of hidden gems. You could spend hours scouring through books you didn’t know you needed but can’t leave without. The owner, Khan, whom the shop is named after, is just as much a treat as her books.
She will go the extra multiple miles to make sure you get what you need and is a huge advocate of children and reading, especially for those who find it most difficult. She must have one of the biggest ranges of dyslexic books in the country, and has made it her passion that no reader gets left behind.
Helena Duggan, bestselling author of the Perfect series, will be in Bookworm Bookshop in Thurles, Co Tipperary, on Thursday, October 31st
Bookshops are havens – and so say all of us – but the bookshops we love most offer more than simply quiet waters and room to catch a breath. They belong in the same bracket as libraries: they are a necessary part of a social, civic and cultural ecosystem.
They provide oxygen. This role is all the more crucial at times and in places where strains are apparent – and that’s why I particularly hold two Northern Ireland bookshops in the greatest of esteem.
In Belfast, No Alibis offers an expansive menu of options – a publishing house, readings, events, festivals, as well as a space where books are for sale – and David Torrans strikes me as one of the most important presences on the Northern Ireland cultural scene.
Within the old walls of Derry, meanwhile, Jenni Doherty runs Little Acorns: gregarious but intimate, the sort of space where browsing offers the richest of pickings – and where conversation and connections are a natural part of the mix. We speak a good deal these days of the importance of shared spaces, and both No Alibis and Little Acorns walk the walk in this regard.
The Jewel by Neil Hegarty is published by Head of Zeus
Hodges Figgis, in Dublin, is my favourite bookshop not only because it’s a very good bookshop (being inviting, having an excellent range, with knowledgeable, friendly staff, having places to sit, with good events and outreach, and genius window displays) but also because it’s where I go to feel like I know what’s going on.
The Hodges Figgis top 20, just to the left of the main door, really does reflect which books have been selling best over the past 24 hours, and their single-title tables (those tables placed carefully around the shop with just one book on them, usually with a great quote or blurb) are a great insight into what’s new and making waves.
Liam, one of the sellers there, has a frankly ridiculous knowledge of sci-fi. (He also read the entire Dalkey Archive Korean literature series.) All the sellers (and buyers!) are great, with varied perspectives, and Stephen will be working out the best displays months in advance – it’s such an impressive team.
Knowledge and atmosphere and quality are important, and we’re so lucky in Ireland to have so many bookshops giving us all this, from Bridge Street Books, in Wicklow town, to Charlie Byrne’s and Kennys in Galway, the rebellious Sheelagh Na Gig in Cloughjordan, in Co Tipperary, to the incredible work that Bob and the gang at the Gutter Bookshop do, it feels wrong not to mention them too. We’re lucky it’s so fun and so difficult to pick just one favourite.
Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff is out now in trade paperback
Just Books has been in Mullingar for over 20 years. Its bright-red presence on the corner of Pearse Street is always a welcome sight. Even when I’m in a rush and must forgo a browse inside, I will still stop at its expansive window to take in the current bestsellers alongside the personal and sometimes quirky picks of its owner, Stella Lynch.
This is a small shop with a range that is inspiring. Stella knows exactly what her customers will want, be they eight or 80, historian or cook, or a good old fiction fiend.
Her children’s section is cosy and never without someone sitting on one of the little stools with a book on their knee. Teachers send reluctant readers in knowing Stella will put her hand to the very thing. Never will I forget the Christmas she handed my son of four a present of The Polar Express and told him there was nothing as precious as reading.
Stella’s sharp mind can fire recommendations at speed. She enthuses, as all good booksellers do, about her favourite writers, characters and plot twists that she refuses to give away with a mischievous smile. Put simply, Just Books is our midlands gem.
When All Is Said by Anne Griffin is out now in trade paperback
My love of books began in a shop that had lots of books – but it wasn’t a bookshop. It was the only public library in Ballyfermot – population 40,000 – a small converted shop, with a lone librarian whose pipe smoke wafted through the shelves as you searched for books. Clutching my two precious blue library tickets, with their little pocket for the card which identified each book, I’d spend hours hours lost among the narrow aisles.
Of course I love Eason’s – from the day I worked as a lift boy in the old Metropole beside their magical O’Connell Street branch, where I’d spend my lunch hours browsing and sneaking a free read. I’m still a regular. But one bookshop that deserves a shout out is Chapters, on Parnell Street in Dublin city centre. Located at the top of Moore Street, it is a massive store that never ceases to surprise.
They pride themselves on being Ireland’s largest independent book store – and it truly is an Aladdin’s cave, with an eclectic selection of thousands of books, some recent, but many that you will not find elsewhere. I challenge anyone to visit this store and emerge empty-handed. And, like most bookshops, the staff seem to treat their role as a vocation rather than a job. After all, the quality of staff in a bookshop speaks volumes.
Joe Duffy presents Liveline on RTÉ Radio 1. He is the author, with Freya McClements, of Children of the Troubles: The Untold Story of the Young People Killed in the Northern Ireland Conflict
As a young girl the only thing I ever wanted to spend my pocket money on was books. And the biggest treat in my life was being brought into Eason’s in O’Connell Street and being let loose in the children’s department, knowing I could buy whatever I liked. I still vividly remember walking out of the shop with my purchase in the blue-and-green-striped bag, full of anticipation and eager to get home.
I grew up in Eason’s, moving from Enid Blyton to Eilís Dillon to Agatha Christie and PD James. I bought Marilyn French and Barbara Taylor Bradford, Margaret Atwood and Judith Krantz. Whatever mood I was in, whatever book I wanted, I found it in O’Connell Street.
I love independent, quirky bookstores, and Eason’s definitely isn’t that. But, for me, walking into the O’Connell Street store, no matter how many times it has changed its look or its branding, transports me back to being a 10-year-old with money burning a hole in her pocket. I still get the same surge of excitement at seeing so many books waiting for me. And I recall the dream I had of one day having a book on its shelves myself.
My Husband’s Mistake by Sheila O’Flanagan is out now in trade paperback
Irish Book Week starts on Saturday, October 26th, and runs until Saturday, November 2nd. Events across the country will celebrate Irish books and the central role bookshops play in Irish life. The week’s 2019 ambassadors are Rick O’Shea, Niall Breslin, Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght. Bookselling Ireland has also launched the Find Your Local Bookshop app for iPhone and Android