I was brain dead. My mind was mush after 50+ weeks on the road and even more stores with countless shelves full of books whose titles kept me constantly tilting my head from side to side. Barbara saw my glassy-eyed stare as I wandered through her door. She read what was left of my mind and restored my sanity with a smile I wouldn’t be able to see in today’s masked world. But this was in Trim, County Meath in the year 2020 BC [Before Covid].

The visit reminded me of an experience from years ago: After an uncomfortable seat on an overly-long bus ride that followed a sleepless too-long red-eye flight, I stopped into a local shop in Cork for some Ibuprofen. The checkout clerk said she could open it right there and asked if I needed a glass of water. I wasn’t in quite that bad a condition when I visited Antonia’s Bookstore, but must have appeared pretty close to it.

It’s wonderful when we encounter people who pay more attention to other people than to their phones. And it’s pretty damned impressive when we meet them in a retail environment, where they’re among the few who recognize that sales come from service.

OK, so much for sermonizing. Over this past year’s pilgrimage to indie bookshops I’ve tried to avoid my usual go-to easy reads: crime fiction in its various stripes. In so doing, I’ve stumbled across some outstanding writing by authors I’d heard of but never read and others I’d never heard of but whose books I’ll be buying in the future.  But by the time I arrived in Trim I was in a mood for a good mystery, even if I didn’t know it when I walked through Antonia’s door. Barbara wasn’t selling. She was sharing as we talked about everything under the cloud-hidden sun. Along the way she shared her enthusiasm and love for a new [to me] kind of detective, one who isn’t particularly dysfunctional, in a book with some laughs. So I paid for a Lee Child book and left in search of some good coffee.

I found myself in a restaurant listening to Otis Redding singing Sam Cooke while I drank outstanding coffee and ate the free porridge on offer. As the music changed to a less memory-laden playlist, I began reading my new book. I finished it in a couple of nights. Thank you, Barbara, for restoring some of my sanity.

Oh, and another aside. In case you’re one of those people who’ve heard the phrase “beyond the pale” but never paid attention to its origins, it refers to Ireland outside of English-controlled Dublin in the 15th Century. Once you crossed the fortifications you were beyond the protection and control of English authority. Trim and its historic castle were on the frontier.




This piece is just one of a number I’ve written about my long-term love affair with books. If you’d like to see more simply click on the “Books” category below. You can also subscribe, so that you’ll see these blogs as they’re written, as opposed to social media’s algorithms. As the saying goes, if you like my writing, tell your friends. If you don’t, tell your enemies.

Historic Trim Castle, where England’s Richard II spent time near the end of his troubled reign. Its Norman architecture and foreign flags show Trim’s hospitality to so many cultures.