In recent weeks, the call for bookstores in Ireland to be classed as essential, and allowed to reopen as soon as possible, had been growing. Then came the somewhat unexpected, but very welcome, announcement that bookstores (and other ‘non-essential retail’) would be allowed to reopen by mid May.
There were many valid reasons backing the call (by the industry and its loyal customers) for as swift as possible a reopening, but the one that interested me the most was the evident overall consensus regarding the psychological value of books.
I have seen so many people posting about how turning to books saved them during this pandemic; whether it was escapism through captivating fiction, armchair travel as our countries were forced to close in on themselves, people finally dusting off those cookbooks and learning to cook new and (sometimes!) healthier meals for their families, or all the other ways books support us in well-being and personal development.
Reading great fiction allows us a broader understanding of humanity; an insight into characters, relationships and stories outside our own. Reading a good writer helps us to deepen our understanding of the power of words and language to move, to inspire, to delight, or to shock. We couldn’t travel but we could choose to learn more about faraway places, and different cultures; or we could choose to take a deeper look at our own country’s history and culture. Galleries and museums were closed, but we could still spend hours poring over high quality art and photography coffee table books. Good books whisk us away for a while, and then deposit us back into our world a little more inspired, a little more fulfilled, and a little richer in experience, even if it’s through the eyes of others.
As a young student, I remember spending hours in the vast expanse of books which is Hodges Figgis; from the bargain basement, in the hopes of getting my English lecture reading list for a student’s steal, to the premium section packed with shiny new contemporary fiction, and the rows upon rows of gorgeous art books. The only downside to the joyful hours spent browsing was my resignation to the fact that I would never have enough time, storage space or money to acquire even a fraction of what was tantalizingly within arm’s reach.
For a good number of years my local was The Company of Books in Ranelagh, the little shop with the big heart. Many a walk through Ranelagh ended up with a spontaneous side-step in here to happily browse the carefully curated selection of books and stationary, not to mention the delightfully colourful kids’ corner. Added to the bonus of a great little selection of books just down the road from home, was the knowledge that I was supporting a smaller independent bookstore by shopping there.
Shortly after moving to Dublin, I also discovered Dubray, which lay somewhere in between the two above; a large selection and variety across genres of books, while still retaining a real sense of careful curation in terms of stock and its beginnings as a small family business.
We have recently moved house, and Raven Books will now be my nearest independent local bookstore; I can’t wait to be able to browse, and support them, in person.
This is only a fraction of the delightful bookstores that we are lucky enough to have in this country.
So, as these stores, and all the other wonderful bookstores around the country, are working away behind closed doors to welcome us all back…I want to wish them a happy reopening, and we can’t wait to step through your doorways again, into the welcoming world of books.