A bookshop epiphany

February 13th, 2010 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on A bookshop epiphany
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This blog has previously featured depressing news from the book retail industry, but I wanted to post some more positive thoughts about what you might call ‘the bookshop experience’ – or, in this case, a bookshop epiphany.

Charlie Byrne's BookshopI’ve just returned from Galway, Ireland, where I was giving a talk on children’s publishing. Every time I visit the city, I take the time to visit Charlie Byrne’s, a treasure trove of a bookshop, an enticing mix of new, second-hand and remaindered titles. It’s the sort of bookshop that gently encourages the reader more used to the standardised, heavily-discounted offer of the chain stores to stop and think, and to fall in love with reading again.

Second-hand bookshops are particularly good at making you do this, I think, nudging you to escape the hold of the frontlist and the hyped, for more unpredictable territories.

Charlie Byrne’s isn’t a snobbish place, though – alongside its Irish-language books and academic texts, it has a lively children’s section, popular fiction, and a wall bustling with notices about arts-oriented events taking place round the city. The company also, as its website informs, ‘sells used books in larger quantities to be used as decoration or “furniture” in restaurants, pubs, shops, etc.’  Literature as wallpaper?

I first visited Charlie Byrne’s when I was working in publishing, at Hodder & Stoughton. At this time in the mid-1990s, Hodder was one of the most commercially-oriented trade publishers, and was instrumental in sounding the death knell of the Net Book Agreement and the rise of the 3-for-2 sales culture of the 2000s. I was happy in the job, though, working on Hodder’s literary imprint Sceptre, with authors including Melvyn Bragg, Jill Dawson, Siri Hustvedt, Andrei Makine, Andrew Miller and David Mitchell.

But that rainy Irish summer day, with time to kill, happily, in a bookshop, I suddenly decided I wanted to go back to university – to take the time to think a bit more about authors, books, readers and the process – ‘publishing’ – by which all these are brought together. For me, it was a good decision, and every time I have the opportunity to go back to Galway, I remember that moment, revisit Charlie Byrne’s, and go home with a suitcase full of books.

Has a bookshop ever changed the course of your life? Or do you simply have a favourite bookshop you’d like to tell everyone about? Let us know…

Claire Squires