What’s everyone reading? We ask some of Ireland’s best indie booksellers

Most of us are leaning towards page-turners and curling up with escapist tales

Indie bookseller: Gwen Allman of The Company of Books, in Ranelagh in Dublin

Indie bookseller: Gwen Allman of The Company of Books, in Ranelagh in Dublin

 

Between being thrilled/outraged (delete where applicable) by Element Pictures’ sensitive production of Normal People, a limited social life and a desire to limit screen time, many of us have found ourselves with a little more time for reading.

While some admirable souls seemingly have the attention span to tackle the big, bucket-list books, such as Ulysses, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, most of us are leaning to page turners and curling up with escapist tales, as these booksellers up and down the country attest.

BOOKS UPSTAIRS, DUBLIN

Louisa Earls, co-manager

What are your customers ordering?
We got a lot of orders for Modern Times by Cathy Sweeney, which is a really bold and funny collection of short stories from an Irish writer. We also had a lot of requests for Man Booker Prize winner Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, which has just come out in a gorgeous paperback edition, as well as Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and also, appropriately enough, a few requests for a non-fiction title by Jenny Odell called How to Do Nothing.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Handiwork by Sara Baume, a meditation on the process of making, and it is beautifully precise and very calming – perfect lockdown reading. My fellow manager Mary McAuley is reading a classic, Anna Karenina, not for the faint-hearted, but total immersion-reading is always recommended.

What new releases should readers look out for?
So many to choose from here! We’re really excited about Elaine Feeney’s debut novel As You Were and Mark O’Connell’s Notes from an Apocalypse. And we are raving to anyone who’ll listen to us about Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s Ghost in the Throat, which is a powerfully emotional, genre-bending masterpiece.

What classic book do you recommend delving into right now?
We’d recommend some comfort reading to soothe the anxiety. Jane Austen will cure what ails you.

THE GUTTER BOOKSHOP, DALKEY

Marta Starosta, manager

What are your customers ordering?
We’ve been absolutely flooded with orders for Normal People by Sally Rooney due to the TV adaptation being skillfully made, and shockingly revealing for some viewers – just ask Joe Duffy. The plot of the book is focused on Connell and Marianne growing up in the same small town in the west of Ireland. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner, but when the two strike up an awkward but electrifying conversation, something life-changing begins. Sally Rooney is a brilliant writer. We should all read her books, whether for a book club or simply for ourselves.

What are you reading at the moment?
I am savouring Oona by Alice Lyons, an incredibly emotional story of an American artist-in-the-making dealing with family grief, growing up, and engaging with Irish culture. A masterpiece not to be missed, and it’s written without the letter “o”.

What new releases should readers look out for?
Handiwork by Sara Baume. Every book by Baume is an eye-opener, she has a magic way with words that just grips your soul. Handiwork is a work of non-fiction that deals with the everyday of being an artist and a writer, from the structure of the days to necessary frustrations along the way while at the same time enlightening us with her knowledge about birds and offering personal insights into her family.

Also, We Are Not In the World by Conor O’Callaghan (postponed now until 2021), which follows a story of Paddy as he drives a haulage lorry around France with his daughter, who sneakily stowed away just before he left. A beautiful novel of heartbreak, grief, and moving on. One you’ll never stop talking about, believe me.

What classic book do you recommend delving into right now?
If you’re feeling catastrophic, or macabre-hungry, I’d gently direct you towards The Plague by Albert Camus, otherwise anything by Jane Austen where social distancing and lonely walks around the estate are the norm. Truth be told, don’t we all feel a bit like Elizabeth Bennet these days?

BOOKS PAPER SCISSORS, BELFAST

Linda Murray, owner

What are your customers ordering?
As the days of lockdown have matured, we’ve noticed a refreshing uptake on children’s reading. It’s almost as if the entertainment value of the phone plateaued for kids, with very little gossip or activity to share, they have come to rely more on family and more traditional entertainments; board games, garden games, and reading.

However, people are definitely now getting lockdown fatigue, and there is a hunger for new books, and just something ‘other’ to take their minds off the monotony of the everyday.

Equally, whilst there has been a lot of talk online about tackling the ‘monster’ novels you always meant to read, I think the opposite is true. People want a bit of escapism, a good story to engage and take their mind off the anxieties of the everyday. The balance is important; nothing too trivial, but not too heavy either.

We were limited for about a month in getting supply of new books, but our customers have been happy to take our recommendations, from our shop stock, based on books and authors they have enjoyed before. Now our suppliers have somehow managed to find a way of safe working and we are able to send books out direct, plus our nightly round of local doorstep deliveries.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just enjoyed a couple of great books. Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth is a 30-something contemporary story, with loads of humour and a very modern, engaging style of text/ voicemail/email narration. Plus Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, a very deserved prize winner with huge appeal.

I’m looking forward to Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession next, as it’s one of our book club reads. We are trying to keep our shop book club going with online reviews and Zoom discussions.

What new releases should readers look out for?
I have been given an early copy of Sea Wife by Amity Gaige, which is out in July, and I have found really compelling. It’s based on a sabbatical ocean sailing trip of a young family, with another interesting narrative style of diary/log book entries and retrospective thoughts. It’s almost thriller-like but with reflections on relationships, very readable indeed.

I’m also hoping to read Silver Sparrow, the new novel by Tayari Jones, who wrote the successful An American Marriage. Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet has been much requested, and well reviewed, so I’d say that’s a must-read.

As people can’t get into the shop at the moment I’ve even started some Instagram video posts of the newer books, just to help people have a virtual browse, if they can’t do a real one.

What classic book do you recommend delving into right now?
If you are taking life a bit slower, and have the patience to try a classic, George Eliot’s writing in Middlemarch and Adam Bede is thoroughly rewarding. It’s hard to believe they were written 150 years ago, they are so insightful and with wonderful character studies.

Paul Guinan, owner of Sunday Books

SUNDAY BOOKS, ONLINE

Paul Guinan, owner

What are your customers ordering?
There’s no particular patterns I’m detecting in titles or topics that people are buying at the moment, but it’s been wonderful to see consistent online sales throughout the lockdown. With so many industries suffering, reading is one activity that, if anything, has seen an upswing from people spending more time at home.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just started Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back by Mark O’Connell, a wry and elucidating delve into the psychology behind a global movement of doomsdayers and tech billionaires who are predicting and preparing for end-of-the world scenarios.

What new releases should readers look out for?
Kodwo Eshun’s study of black culture’s influence on modern music and its possible future, More Brilliant Than The Sun has been on my to-read list for longer than I care to mention. Long out of print and commanding dizzying prices on the second hand market, a long-promised reprint due, by Verso, is out this year is a must-read for music obsessives.

What classic book do you recommend delving into right now?
Chroma is an astonishing meditation on colour written by Derek Jarman in the final years of his life. Each chapter is dedicated to a single colour with Jarman musing poetically on its use throughout history, as well as in his own life and work.

Halfway Up the Stairs, Greystones
Halfway Up the Stairs, Greystones

HALFWAY UP THE STAIRS, GREYSTONES

Trish Hennessy, owner

What are your customers ordering?
As we are a children’s bookshop, our customers often look for recommendations rather than specific books. Parents are keen to use this time to encourage their children to read and are also looking for activities to keep them busy. Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture books are always very popular with younger children and their parents.

We are also seeing people looking to start new series to delve into; Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy and Judi Curtin’s series remain very popular. We are always keen to introduce readers to authors they may not have encountered before, and we love receiving reviews of books the children have enjoyed. Grandparents are looking for ways to connect with their grandchildren during this time and often look for some of the classics like Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg and The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr.

What are you reading at the moment?
I have been spending this time catching up on some 9-12 young teen fiction. I am currently reading Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker, which I am really enjoying. It’s about a boy and a girl who remain on the outside of social groups and how they embark on an ambitious project together, and I recently finished High-Rise Mystery by Sharma Jackson, a murder mystery set in high-rise flats in London. This book is published by Knights Of, a publisher specialising in inclusive children’s fiction, while on top of my adult to-be-read pile is Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession and American Dirt by Jeanne Cummins.

What new releases should readers look out for?
There are loads of fantastic new releases. I have three favourites, each for a different age group. Only a Tree Knows How to Be a Tree written and illustrated by Mary Murphy, a beautiful picture book celebrating individuality that is perfect from age two. Pests by Emer Stamp, which follows Stix, a lovable mouse who discovers a school for pests and meets loads of interesting creatures and faces mighty challenges. With great illustrations and humour, this book is really enjoyable and pitched at ages 6+. Lastly, On Midnight Beach by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick, a YA novel that will transport you straight back to teenage summers. It’s a modern day retelling of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, a coming of age tale that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it, for ages 15+.

What classic book do you recommend delving into right now?
One of my all time favourite picture books is Hug by Jez Alborough, a wordless picture book that celebrates twenty years this year. For a kids comfort read, you can’t go wrong with the Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery, while for adults pandemic fiction, my favourite is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, a book I really missed after I finished it, and Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes, which I have returned to many times over the years.

THE COMPANY OF BOOKS, RANELAGH

Gwen Allman, owner

What are your customers ordering?
Customers, old and new, are looking to metaphorically escape the lockdown, so page turners providing entertainment and suspense like Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent and American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins are the bestsellers. Also popular are novels exploring nuances of relationships like The Weight of Love by Hilary Fannin, Actress by Anne Enright and Normal People by Sally Rooney. A frequently sent gift during the lockdown is The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. It’s described as a book of hope for uncertain times; the drawings and accompanying text are heart-warming and appeal to all ages. There has also been a spike in poetry and cookery book sales.

What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished Apeirogon by Colum McCann, which I thought was exquisite and I’m currently reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. The former is set in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, and the latter in 16th-century plague-infested Stratford-Upon-Avon. Coincidentally, both are explorations of grief following the loss of a child, which admittedly does not sound particularly uplifting, but they are extraordinary pieces of writing.

What new releases should readers look out for?
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan is this summer’s must-read along with Anne Tyler’s Redhead By The Side Of The Road. The Arms Crisis of 1970 by Michael Heney, The Ratline by Philippe Sands and Putin’s People by Catherine Belton are the most anticipated of the new non-fiction releases.

What classic book do you recommend delving into right now?
Interestingly, I’ve had lots of customer requests for two classics; Middlemarch by George Eliot and The Plague by Albert Camus. Middlemarch is a Victorian novel about provincial life, compromised relationships, the effects of industrialisation, and indeed, the role of women - so timeless really. The Plague examines the effect of the bubonic plague on a town over a number of months... need I say more? Some customers have decided this is the time to tackle Ulysses and War and Peace, while the short and sweet The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is always worth re-reading.

WOODBINE BOOKS, KILCULLEN

Dawn Behan, owner

What are your customers ordering?
Our biggest seller since the first government restrictions kicked in has been The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. It is a beautiful book, full of inspirational messages and most of our sales have been to customers buying this as a gift for someone else. The new Liz Nugent book, Our Little Cruelties, has also been selling very well since its release.

We recently started to sell book bundles and I try to include Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession in these where possible because it is gentle, wise and funny and I think everybody should read it. Other books that are selling well at the moment are This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel, The Other Half of Augusta Hope by Joanna Glen and Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan. I think people are looking for a gripping story to distract them for a couple of hours.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’m trying to use this time to work my way through the stacks of unread books I have at home. So far I’ve finished – and loved – Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern and am currently reading My Coney Island Baby by Billy O’Callaghan. I’m hoping to tackle Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman and have also dusted off some of my cookbooks, including Neven Maguire’s Complete Family Cookbook and all of Nigel Slater’s books.

What new releases should readers look out for?
There are a number of exciting new releases that we’re really looking forward to; The Tainted by Cauvery Madhavan, Saving Lucia by Anna Vaught, Gargantis, the follow-up to Malamander, by Thomas Taylor and in August, The Bird in the Bamboo Cage by Hazel Gaynor and After the Silence by Louise O’Neill.

What classic book do you recommend delving into right now?
Customers have started to return to classics for a comfort read. Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez has proved very popular, although my recommendation is All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot as the perfect comfort read. PG Wodehouse is always funny, no matter how many times you’ve read his books, as is David Sedaris.

SHEELAGH NA GIG, CLOUGHJORDAN

Mollie Barrow, owner

What are your customers ordering?
Our most popular order has been Handiwork by Sara Baume. It was published just as we went into lockdown and proved very difficult to get until this week, so we were frantically asking other booksellers if they could provide it. Children are reading Slime by David Walliams and Fireboy by JM Joseph. Maria Thun’s Biodynamic Calendar is an annual bestseller for us. With most people at home pottering around their gardens, we’ve sold out our whole year’s stock already.

What are you reading at the moment?
We always have several books on the go, and at the moment they are all very different. We’re dipping into and out of the massive The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity by Toby Ord. It’s tough going, but easy to read, if you know what I mean. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, which has just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction; Whitehead’s last book, the fantastic The Underground Railroad also won the Pulitzer Prize, which is quite an achievement. We’re also reading Shamrocks and Oil Slicks: A People’s Uprising Against Shell Oil in County Mayo Ireland by Fred A Wilcox and the uproariously fun children’s book Boot: The Rusty Rescue by Shane Hegarty.

What new releases should readers look out for?
We are chomping at the bit to read the new Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. In very guilty pleasures, there is a new Twilight Saga book coming out in August called Midnight Sun. We kind of hated the original series, but read them in secret. Midnight Sun is going to be from Edward’s point of view. We hope he can explain why he’s such a stalker creep pursuing a young girl who is not only underage, but 100 years his junior. That’s just not right.

What classic book do you recommend delving into right now?
I am a sucker for apocalypse fiction and finds bizarre comfort in reading it, especially right now. Particularly good are the modern classics Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler, and the classic classics The Plague by Albert Camus and A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe.

Amanda Kavanagh is editor of Image Interiors. Follow her on Twitter

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