Kevin Gildea had a fabulous piece in the Irish Times recently about his bookstore in Dún Laoghaire. Unfortunately it’s closing next January. Another book reservation tarmacadamed over by “progress” to make room for vapeshops and Amazon fulfilment centres.
Gildea gave a few very interesting quotes.
“As at a cat or dog shelter, I took in books with no homes to go to, from people clearing out houses because of death or downsizing: books that would otherwise go to the dump.”
I visited Gildea’s bookstore, being a bookstore geek who can’t walk past one without dipping in for a hunt, and it was a magical place of gravity-defying book towers and mysterious boxes filled with literary treasure.
And often, not so much treasure.
Scouse Tom once told me I had the best business model in the world. People would literally bring me stock for free to sell. What he failed to realise was that almost all our sellable stock comes from suppliers at obvious expense and, though I, like Gildea, love rummaging through boxes of new arrivals, they are often found to be full of coloured in colouring books, tattered mills&boons, 2015 annuals from a defunct kids TV show, half sets of encyclopedias and other not so sellable titles.
Although there is still often the chance of a glorious find, a rediscovered gem, it is rather the rarity.
These books are often found to be the fleeing migrants the print world rather than the glorious conquerors. They are the forgotten books and Gildea gave them shelter, just as he offered that same shelter to those who would bask in their shade.
And maybe that’s just as important.
Because with those streams of cast-out books also inevitably comes the reading and thinking refugees of modern society. Those who find it increasingly difficult to find a place in a world which once again sleepwalks into oblivion.
In bookshops like these you will meet the most interesting people. Intelligent, colourful, eccentric, creative, loyal, mad. True, you may not want to live with some of these people or even sit beside them on a bus, but in these book-insulated stores you can discuss literature, art, quantum physics or even the issue of birth control for rabbits with them.
Gildea’s bookshop provided sanctuary from the tiktok, culturewar, faux-activism obsessed frivolity out there. It provided a space for people to meet and to engage in more alternative activities. Writing groups, book clubs, open mics, meditation classes.
“Places like my Brilliant Bookshop are more than businesses: they’re community and cultural resources that every town needs.”
Kevin Gildea opened his bookshop in October 2020, just over a year after Red Books opened in Wexford town. It doesn’t seem like a long-time on paper but it’s a lifetime in a constantly altering sector, both beloved and decried, both nostalgic and obsolete.
In the seemingly short lifetime of a bookstore like Gildea’s, he has had to manoeuvre bookselling through a global pandemic, three lockdowns of society, soaring inflation, rent hikes, rises in every possible bill that arrives in the shop, the continued unabated rise of Amazon and online living, the biggest energy crisis since the 1970s and the biggest existential threat to life on this planet since the Cuban Missile drama. Its no wonder the store has to close down.
“Yet the real pleasure of the second-hand bookshop is finding the book that you didn’t know you wanted. It’s not an A to Z you need but a treasure map and a journey as unexpected as the one in The Hobbit. There’s an element of discovery that pushes the boundaries of our worlds of today, where we have instant access to all that we think we know we want — the consolidation of worlds that can become more and more like gated communities of the self.”
A woman got lost in our bookshop once. At least that’s what Flash claims. He tells two German tourists that he had to guide her out, through the labyrinth of books, back into the light.
The Monk nods knowingly, uncharacteristically quiet for a moment. He is about to fill flashes story with esotericism, flesh it out with astral travel, white witches, druidic circles and nudism but alas, Flash is on a verbal rampage, allowing no room for discord.
“There’s two hundred and fifty thousand books here,” he tells the Germans. “Books from every genre, every language, every part of the world. I’d say there’s more books here than were in the ancient library at Alexandria.”
“How do you find anything?” one of the girls manages to interrupt.
Flash looks at her like she’s an imbecile. “Are ya expecting a search engine or something? You go and look for the fecking book and if you’re lucky you’ll find it. If you’re even luckier, the book you really need will find you.”
I’m momentarily stunned by Flashes philosophic insight. Until he follows up with a rather crass anecdote about getting pubic lice.
“There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page or closing the book,” the Monk whispers into my ear. He is standing uncomfortably close after sneaking in behind the counter with stealth and speed making me wonder if perhaps he does have the magical capabilities which he claims to possess. “Its a hard choice to make like... unless you’re reading absolute shite.”
“You heard about Gildea closing the shop too, eh?”
“Who? What are ya on about? I’m talking about reading books.”
I wonder if the new Dublin Amazon Fulfilment Centre will have regulars like Flash and the Monk but I reckon Bezos will have barbed wire and machine gun turrets to prevent such character infiltrating his soulless dystopia.