Confessions of the bookish kind

I have a confession to make: My name is Rachael and I’m addicted to…reading. I’ve been an addict since I was a child and I’ve easily spent thousands on feeding my habit. Florence O’Connor, one of my lecturers in English in Mary Immaculate College, used to say to us: “You are reading your way to a degree!” It was no surprise to me; I’d been reading my way towards a degree since I was eight. I’ve accepted that I can’t quit and decided that there are worse vices to have.

I’ve been meaning to do a post on my favourite local book emporiums for ages. I was reminded by a lovely booklet that came with The Guardian newspaper last Saturday—the Independent Bookshops Directory. It focused on the UK but there were good articles and photos. I don’t discriminate when it comes to buying books, whether it’s a chain store, an independent bookshop, a second-hand bookshop or a charity shop. For want of a better way of explaining, I’m a ‘book-whore’. So sue me.

The Chain

Eason and Sons, O’Connell Street, Limerick: It’s an Irish chain and celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. It’s bringing back its distinctive blue, green and white striped bags for the occasion. It was my firm favourite (for new books) for years because it’s compact, the main book section is on one level; the discount section is good and there’s always a multi-buy promotion.

Tesco: The supermarket chain has come under fire for selling books too cheaply and undercutting bookshops. Most of the books on sale are paperbacks and from the current bestseller list so if popular fiction is your poison, Tesco is often good value.

HMV: A lot of people don’t realise that the chain sells books as well as CDs, DVDs, games etc. Obviously, it has books about music and musicians you might not get elsewhere. It also sells classic and contemporary novels, humour, pop culture and non-fiction books—sometimes at a better than average price. You have to know what to look for!

Independent’s Day
Limerick City has only a few independent bookshops and I only visit one regularly.

O’Mahony’s, O’Connell Street, Limerick: This is a local landmark, founded in 1902. It’s still a family-run business and “is one of the largest independent bookshops in the country”, according to the website. O’Mahony’s has expanded to include smaller branches in UL, Ennis and Tralee. I like it because it doesn’t feel homogenised; you get a sense that a discerning book-lover would shop here. It has a massive variety and knowledgeable staff. It has several levels but it’s easy to find what you want because the sections are well organised and laid-out. There are also specialist sections i.e. large travel and art sections and a great local/Irish section.

No visit to Galway City is complete without checking out this bookshop.
Charlie Byrne’s, Cornstore Mall, Middle Street: I love this place. It stocks 50,000 new and used books on umpteen subjects. It has brilliant poetry, drama, art and contemporary fiction selections at competitive prices. It also stocks niche journals/magazines and champions local/Irish authors.

Secondhand Serenade
It’s not economical for me to buy new books all the time because I read a lot and I’m a fast reader so I don’t feel I get the mileage out of them. I also like finding something I never even knew I wanted to read among organised chaos. So I buy a lot of books secondhand. I like bookshops with character; where the shelves are mismatched or where you could be killed by tottering piles of books if you make the wrong move…

Little Catherine Street Bookshop and Art Gallery (which also goes off-site with a stall occasionally): This is a gem. The shop is upstairs but you get the measure of it while ascending because there are even piles of books in a space to the side of the stairs and at the top you’re met by walls of books and loads of little cubbies. Books spill out of cabinets and fill available floor space. It looks like a book factory exploded in there ha ha. It’s oddly homely with household furniture and the radio playing. The selection is very wide and eclectic. There are designated sections but browsing is more fun!

High Street Bookstore, across from the Round House Bar and near the Milk Market: Like the previous shop, this one has a large selection of every and any type of book and has them in every display position possible—in the window, on shelves, on tables, on the floor. I think the opening hours are mainly at the owner’s discretion but it’s normally open on Saturdays when the market is hopping. The owner used to have a small place on William Street years ago and that had a certain claustrophobic, musty charm too.

Sweet Charity
Some of the charity shops have a decent selection of books but it depends on the shop. At least you know the price of the book goes to a good cause. One that’s consistently good is Oxfam and it also has some branches selling just books. There’s a fantastic one of these bookshops on Parnell Street in Ennis.

Oxfam, William Street, Limerick: As far as I can tell a group of middle-aged and elderly women run this shop, and with great efficiency. There’s a big shelf unit at the front of the shop, always full, and they do book sales every now and again too.

The bookshop obsession goes global…
I’m proud to say I’ve been to two of the most well known bookshops in the world… sad but true!

The Strand Bookstore, New York: It boasts ‘18 miles of books’ within its confines. That’s a concept and a visual image I find fascinating. The shop is massive, spanning a few floors. Outside it on Fourth Avenue, it also has stalls of books in a throwback to what the street used to be nicknamed—Book Row. The Strand is the only bookshop left there now.

Shakespeare and Co, Rue De La Bucherie, Paris: This bookshop is very unique and has played host to famous authors like Henry Miller and William Burroughs. It has stacks and stacks of titles, used and new. There are multiple levels with books not just on the shopfloor but in little rooms and corridors. There a chairs and people are welcome to sit and read. The owner, George Whitman, has been running what he calls “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore” for 50 years. There are also beds scattered around where people stay in return for helping out in the shop. Now that’s a recession-proof idea Irish bookshops haven’t hit on yet!

Epilogue…
Printed books and bookshops are facing stiff opposition from technological advances i.e. electronic readers like the Kindle and e-books and online booksellers. These advances are new market opportunities and sometimes cheaper but they also take away a sensory and social experience too.

It was actually always a dream of mine to own a bookshop but there’s a risk I’d be too delighted to get any work done but if any of the aforementioned booksellers want to give me a job, I’d take it 😉 For now though, I’ll be content to seek out my next fix. I hear there’s a new stall in the Limerick Milk Market on Fridays (11am-5pm) and Saturday (11am-4pm) called Bazaar Tales run by two lifelong bibliophiles. To the book-mobile…

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