Thursday 23 November 2017

God bless the book shop - where a browse can calm the mind and soothe the soul

The gentle little tinkle as you push the door open acts as a Tibetan prayer bell to calm the mind and soothe the body, setting this aside as a sensory experience.

And then there's the uniquely beguiling scent of ink on paper - as perfumed as a cloud of incense.

Nobody ever goes 'shopping' for books - instead we go for a 'browse' - an entirely different concept that reflects the fact that stepping inside a book shop has far more in common with popping in to light a candle in the church than it has with a dash to the local supermarket.

It's a spiritual experience.

From the Book of Kells to the Reader's Digest, right through to books that you would actually want to read, hard copies of the written word have always been revered in this country.

Even when tattered and missing most of its pages, throwing out a book that has lived beyond its useful shelf life still feels as potentially blasphemous as disposing of a broken holy statue.

So choosing a new book to come and live in your house - probably forever - is a very special event. But in a world of Amazon, Kindle and e-readers, independent book shops are an increasingly endangered species.

Last year, American novelist James Patterson - dubbed the 'Henry Ford of Books' by Vanity Fair - gave away a million dollars in his native United States, to bookstores and initiatives to get kids reading.

Patterson holds the Guinness World Record for the author with the most New York Times best-sellers, with worldwide sales exceeding 300 million.

Now he has extended his scheme here, with 10 independent book shops across the country receiving grants of varying sizes, in a unique initiative that saw more than half a million euro awarded to book shops in Ireland and the UK.

He operates a similar scheme in Australia, where he explained that the idea of an enduring legacy was the last thing on his mind.

"Who gives a s**t? I'm dead," he said. "I want to do as much good as I can."

The greatest challenge facing society, warned Patterson, is getting bright children to read more broadly and at-risk kids reading competently.

Patterson's passion for child literacy began with the reluctance of his own son, Jack, to read. One summer he cancelled Jack's chores and told him his only obligation was to read for an hour a day.

"Give them stories that they'll gobble up like chocolate pudding and ask for more," said Patterson, explaining the secret to getting children hooked on books. The only bad book was one that put a child off reading for life, he added.

Among the Irish book shops to get funding from Patterson is Blackbird Books in Navan , Co Meath - which opened just last May.

Husband and wife team Shane and Lorraine Breslin put a big emphasis on 'The Nest' - which is the children's section.

Lines from Seamus Heaney's poem 'The Blackbird of Glanmore' are quoted on Shane's business card - an illustration of the atmosphere the couple are hoping to achieve: "I park, pause, take heed. Breathe. Just breathe and sit."

They get a "real kick" when they see their customers doing just that, said Shane.

"Book shops serve more than a commercial purpose; they're probably closer to a library than to any other business," he said.

"A book shop is a key part of town as far as I'm concerned. A town without a book shop is a town without a soul."

Irish Independent

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