Kinsale – My first time here I was a backpacking blow-in from across the pond. That’s back when there were more fishing boats than pleasure boats in the harbour. Now the town’s reinvented itself as a foodie’s paradise with more seafood on the menus than fish on the pier. These days I’m still a blow-in, but from just an hour away. I have my perspective and opinions, but also friends who live here, which tempers my opinions with a bit of knowledge. Like most of us I realize now what I didn’t know then: that there’s a lot more I don’t know. So I wander through town seeing more than the elbow-to-elbow camera-toting tour groups but not nearly enough to know what I’m about.
I’ve heard it said that if you do something more than once it becomes a tradition. My tradition on this national pilgrimage is to start the day with a coffee and scone in a local shop – here’s it’s the Poet’s Corner, with a wall full of used books for sale and a weekend book review section to immerse myself in. I’m getting the feeling I may never have to leave the shop. But as my stomach fills, my energy returns and I notice that all the tables next to the bookshelves are full of people keeping me from browsing, it’s time to go next door, to Prim’s Bibliotherapy.
I walk through the door to a barely discernible nod from the man reading his book in a chair that’s seen years of good reading. Oh, and there’s a half-hearted tail flop from the dog at his feet, but only after seeing his master’s non-action. Floor to ceiling shelves, tables, every horizontal space filled with books. A woman comes in looking for children’s books. He points her to a case and directs her up, down and sideways – without ever leaving his chair or appearing to move his eyes from the page he’s reading. Not quite the level of inventory knowledge you’ll find from the teenager in a chain store with out-of-town owners.
Do you ever have one of those lightbulb moments – where all of a sudden the pieces you’ve seen floating around your brain come together to form a new picture?
It wasn’t until later in the day, after Prim’s and two other shops, that I realized there’s a lot of square footage – and apparent success – in children’s book departments, not just here, but in other towns I’ve visited. Here in Ireland, one of the more tech-savvy parts of the planet, people seem to agree with their Silicon Valley counterparts, that digital is dangerous for kids. Sure I’ve seen the stories about tech gurus restricting their kids’ screen time, but until I saw all these thriving children’s book departments it didn’t strike home. While a non-digital future may be out of the question, perhaps reports of analog’s death are premature.
I’d been in Prim’s before and I’ll be back, but the 500+ page Orhan Pamuk novel that jumped off the shelf at me seemed a bit long for my current travel and reading habits. I love his writing, but will save him for some long winter nights – and this particular volume for someone else. So back on my mission of finding new books in local stores. As in other towns, I succumbed to temptation – rather than a book from each store I bought three books from the other two stores in town.
But here’s how I cheated – small books.
Just like my children’s department lightbulb moment, I had another one: small books. They’ve always been around, but I always associated them with Penguin Classics. Now I’ve learned that Penguin, Vintage, Faber and most likely others are publishing these entry-level books of contemporary writing – like drug dealers giving free samples. I’ll admit that I’m happy to pay for these drugs and at some point will pay even more for longer volumes by some of these authors.
In Bookstor I picked up two more books that I’d not seen before – and hope that others will be introduced to Oscar Wilde, Salman Rushdie and others I’m passing by this time around, not because I don’t care for them, but because I want to experience new work from people who are new to me. I was curious about the store’s selection. Were they chosen by the owner or does a rack-jobber track and refill the inventory. The lone teenager at the counter was too busy gift-wrapping purchases for a picky customer, so I’ll be sure to ask the question at a future stop.
Will there ever be enough time in this lifetime to read everything and do everything and be everywhere we want?
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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.