Thursday 30 March 2017

walking with ghosts in the bookshop

It was a pleasure to speak at the Irish Booksellers Awards a few weeks ago. It's essentially a gathering of like-minded souls whose passion is books; writing them, reading them, printing them, selling them eating, drinking and sleeping them.

With that in mind, it was not a difficult function to attend and I very much enjoyed meeting up with booksellers, buyers and readers from around the country.

At the drinks reception before dinner, it was great to catch up with the representatives of publishing houses around Ireland and some of the independent bookshop owners who I have met when travelling around the country with my radio show.

We always call into the plucky bookseller in whatever town or village we drive into and I met a few of them on the evening in question.

Lone booksellers in towns like Clifden, places like Blessington and cities like Limerick need to be applauded and supported now more than ever.

While it might be easy to throw the latest bestseller into your trolley along with tinfoil and potatoes, the supermarket chain won't be able to help you with a good recommendation or a unusual literary request.

I greatly admire the Irish publishing houses who are forever spotting local talent and who take risks when it comes to publishing books for children.

There was a good buzz at the booksellers' gathering, not the sense of doom that pervades most other businesses. And while I heard some concern expressed about the digital advances, there was a sense that a happy medium could and would be found.

Finally, it was of great assistance to get a couple of book recommendations that have yet to be published here but that will likely cause a stir in the coming months.

Despite the good atmosphere at that event, my heart continues to sink every time I pass my local (and now deceased) Hughes & Hughes. What's sadder still is the fact that the books continue to lie, unloved and uncared for, on the shelves in dark corners.

It gets worse. Upstairs, there's a coffee shop which is still open for business and to get your pot of tea, you have to walk past all the book ghosts that haunt the darkened recesses.

I nearly tried it but it felt just too damn creepy.

I know that Eason has taken over the former Hughes & Hughes shops at Dublin Airport and that can only be a good thing, but I wish there was 'closure' on my poor local. Either somebody take it over and free those sad books or breathe new life into an old friend.

The staff were always quick with a good recommendation and the childrens' section was well stocked and clearly respected the little readers.

Thankfully, I am well looked after by Michael, my local independent bookseller who keeps me informed on what's hot and what's not and will always jot down an order in his copybook should I need a book. It's not quite Amazon.com but he loves books, I like his shop and everyone's a winner.

Unfortunately, at the moment my head is in a state because I cannot decide which book to fully back and commit to.

I got an unproofed advance copy of a very interesting-looking book called The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas and I'm looking forward to getting a run at that.

On the other hand, both my brothers keep harping on about a book called Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. They were praising it so much in the pub last Saturday that I went out and bought it first thing on Sunday morning (well, afternoon really).

One of my brothers was in school with the author and apparently it's what's commonly referred to as 'thinly veiled'. I read the first few pages and I am looking forward to giving that a go too.

And then, for some inexplicable reason, I found myself browsing in a book shop recently and left with two books that there has been a little buzz about.

The first one, Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada had so many high calibre quotations all over the cover that I felt obliged to buy it. The breathless plot headline as splashed on the back cover tells us that it's "Berlin, 1940. The city is paralysed by fear. But one man refuses to be scared".

And then we hear that the Telegraph found it "Extraordinary ... redemptive" and the New York Times says that the book "grips your shoulder and whispers into your ear", all of which forced me to buy it. Always judging a book by its cover, that's my problem.

The second book I saw that day had caught my eye before as it has the look and feel of book club material (or, if it's rubbish, fodder).

This was called One Day and it's by David Nicholls. Considerably shorter than Skippy and Slap, this looked manageable for the busy reader.

The headline quote on this is: "You can live your whole life not realising that what you're looking for is right in front of you."

I got worried when I saw the 'love-in' quotes but also who wrote them. Tony Parsons assures us the book is "Totally brilliant", in itself a verbal coupling that sticks in the throat.

The Guardian probably did for a few thousand sales with its typically po-faced "Fantastic Labour boom-years comedy", sounds like great craic, but you might be reassured by Nick Hornby (if you're into him) when he described One Day as "Big, absorbing, smart".

I started it but remain unconvinced and need to hear from someone I know and trust before I give it my full attention.

So, what's it going to be then, eh? As I'm travelling next week, I'm going to to go with Skippy and The Slap. Reports to follow ...

Irish Independent

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