Endangered or evolving? Independent bookshops move with the times.

The departure of Books Upstairs from Dublin’s College Green is not at all as bad as I feared

Books Upstairs’ old premises on College Green, with Trinity college reflected in the window. Photo from twitter – @BooksUpstairs

Today is World Book Day and as I’ve mentioned before, I have something of an addiction for the things – although I’m far more successful at accumulating them than reading them. There are certain bookshops around Dublin I can’t pass without stepping into and too often, I can’t leave empty-handed. My guess is that I end up buying at least five books for every one I manage to read, but as Sydney Smith once put it, there’s “no furniture so charming as books.”

The New York Times recently quoted George Orwell as saying that a bookshop “is one of the few places where you can hang around for a long time without spending any money”, and it’s very true (I don’t always buy something). When I step into a good bookshop, I often get a giddy thrill, at once excited and daunted by the seemingly endless possibilities – excited by what I could read and daunted by what I’ll never manage to. Excited or daunted, whether I buy or don’t, a good bookshop is simply a wonderful place to be and to pass time. However, that Orwell quote appeared in an article entitled ‘Assessing the health of independent bookstores’ as an illustration of the enduring challenges of the independent bookshop to stay afloat. The article noted that over the past ten years more than one in three independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland have had to shut up shop, unable to compete with the large chains and online retailers.

Books Upstairs

So when I learned last month – via a writer friend ten thousand miles away – that Books Upstairs was leaving the bustle of College Green for the bleaker surrounds of D’Olier Street, I feared the worst. Continue reading


Remembering Bonfire Night: Fear & Loathing in Lewes

Last night, the 5th of November was just a quiet ordinary night for me – unlike the last two years amid the chaos of Guy Fawkes Night in the ‘bonfire capital of the world’. Lest I forget, I dug out this little film I shot last year and thought back on the whole visceral experience, and the brutal history behind it:  

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Travel standing still: Seeing Dublin with different eyes

Dublin, westward along the Liffey, from Seán O'Casey Bridge
Dublin, westward along the Liffey, from Seán O’Casey Bridge

I didn’t think I’d be here. A few months ago, sitting on the balcony of my ninth-storey flat, looking out over Brighton, past the flamboyant Pavilion to the open sea, I would never have guessed that I’d so soon be living back in Dublin, where I’ve spent almost all of my life.

I love Brighton. It is a vibrant, lively, interesting city – small enough to have a real sense of community, but not so small that you feel enclosed. Not that you could feel enclosed in a city whose thriving heart opens right out onto the seafront. I lived there just long enough for it to become familiar, but without yet having lost that sense of novelty.

I could feel bitter and disappointed. I could sit around moping about being stuck here when I’d rather be there. But if I did, it would undermine the positives gained from the reason why I stayed here in the first place. One of the great things that I’ve developed over the past three months of counselling is a sense of acceptance of where I am right now, instead of regret or longing for where I could be. For now, and for what it’s worth, I’m in Dublin.
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What do you mean, “Southern” Ireland?

I’ll admit my knowledge of the UK is pretty basic, but I am surprised that, despite its proximity and centuries of shared history, many English people seem to know very little about Ireland – including the name of the country.

T_ tells me that, before moving to Dublin from Sussex, she knew virtually nothing of the country she was making her new home. She had no idea where Dublin was, if it was on the coast or inland, on the top of a hill or at the end of a leprechaun’s rainbow. In history class at school, she says she wasn’t taught much about the fraught relationship between her country and mine, while my history lessons were completely dominated by it.

Maybe it’s understandable. The telling of history is subjective and selective, and compared to the scale of the whole British Empire, the little western outpost of Ireland probably seemed rather insignificant to most ordinary people here. Still, I am amazed at a certain phrase that keeps cropping up when I mention Ireland here… Continue reading