My mission: to buy a new book from each bookstore I visited. In Clonakilty I visited four shops to buy three books, only two of them new enough to ensure the author made a penny or two.

When you’re in Clonakilty and he’s open [which is not as easy as it sounds] Paul’s Auld Shite is full of lots of interesting old stuff. Some I wanted, none I needed. I spent some worthwhile time carefully wending my way through stacks of old furniture and unidentifiable detritus of indeterminate age and function. I loved the merry-go-round horse. Good thing there’s no place for me to keep it at home or it might have made the trip. But then I found those musty-smelling boxes of books tucked into odd corners here and there in his monument to centuries past. My favourite? One box containing a guide to repairing antique clocks next to a guide on caring for dachshunds, surrounded by an assortment of well-thumbed novels and untouched text books.

I escaped without spending any money. My excuse? He’s not really a bookstore.

Back to books –

While I haven’t been in to Kerr’s enough to recognize the staff [or for them to recognize me], there’s always a warm greeting and wonderful discussion about my purchase. In this case, she added to my collection of Kerr’s bookmarks when she tucked it into my newest book. The good news? I spent some money with a local retailer. The bad news? No one else in the shop, so she had to finish dusting. Wouldn’t the ideal sales environment be that you’re so busy you don’t have time to dust – and nothing stays in stock long enough to need dusting anyway?

And now another chance to cheat – in a store specializing in school books.

To be honest, if Coughlin’s hadn’t appeared in the Irish Times list, I probably would have passed it by, as I’ve done many times before. Their display window is full of games, toys and party supplies. [Did you know that you can buy a Game of Thrones Monopoly set?]

But Coughlin’s door is always open, courtesy of a malfunctioning hinge. I was greeted by a shelf of Wordsworth Classics at 2/€5. I scanned their spines to see all those classics I’d never read – and a fair number I did, recalling Mark Twain’s definition of a classic – something everyone talks about but nobody’s read. Then I discovered a service that brought back age-old memories. They have a book-covering service. Unlike the brown grocery bags of my youth, Coughlin’s uses a clear vinyl laminate that’s a lot more durable. Not sure what it does for the hand-eye coordination of today’s schoolkids – or their sense of responsibility for the books. [Am I sounding like a curmudgeonly dinosaur yet?]

Wedged between school and art supplies and mothers working with staff on book lists for their children was a discount table of reasonably new writing. Since the advent of print-on-demand [POD] and e-readers it’s getting harder and harder to find remainder tables worth shopping. Here was my next chance to cheat. Staring me in the face was a title that’s been sitting in my bedroom pile since at least last summer. I could save a bit of cash by simply moving it from bedroom floor to nightstand. But it wouldn’t be a good example to all the schoolkids in the store. And even if nobody else knew what I did, I would. So I bought another book that I’ll look forward to reading sooner, rather than later.

And while my last stop, the Clonakilty Bookshop, wasn’t on the Irish Times list, it was easily my most enjoyable stop of the day. When you walk in the door of this third-generation family-owned store, you’re greeted by a complete collection of Louise O’Neill books, the local girl made good.

But why do I love this lovely shop? Let me count the ways. Naturally there’s the inventory – and the outside chairs and tables that greet you before you even open the door. But the real reason is the owner, Geraldine Cullinane. She’s the retired manager of one of my neighborhood banks, so we could chat about all the lunacies of local politics and city mis-planning. From there we commiserated on the problems of small-town small shop ownership. About parents who’ve never darkened her door until they come in to ask for summer jobs for their kids. [And why can’t the kids ask for themselves?] Or the people who come in to crack the bindings before ordering from Amazon – and then have the nerve to ask for sponsorship for their local team or church function.

She told me of another local retailer who was forced to post a sign saying they’d only service items they’d sold, after too many people came to them for refunds and adjustments on mail-order merchandise. We’d have kept on commiserating in this mode but for a father and daughter coming through the door. Geraldine greeted them both with their names and a big smile, telling the girl that the book she’d wanted had just arrived with her name on it.

Clonakilty feels right. For me it’s more than the four stores with four wonderful people to share some time with. There once was a time in one of my lives when I could have lived here. Maybe I did. Maybe I will. But not now. I have too many other places to explore, things to do, persons to be.

Oh, and one more thing. I’ve discovered that the notebook I’d bought last week is only semi-useful. I draw less attention to myself in the coffee shop when I text notes to myself on my phone than if I pull out paper & pen. I saved them for transcribing notes at a picnic table in the park and for the bus ride home.

Today’s books and stores –

Coughlan’s – Robert Macfarlane’s Wild Places. Why? Well I loved his book that I picked up a few weeks ago – and I was intrigued by the map orientation in the frontispiece. Buy your own copy to find out why.

Clonakilty BookshopNassim Nicholas Taleb’s Skin in the Game. I’ve never heard of the book or its author, but it sounds like the kind of Malcom Gladwell book I enjoy. We’ll see.

Kerr’s Bookshop – Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography has been calling out to me from airport bookshops for a while, but I’m glad I gave my money to a local store. And why did I finally buy it now? Since I’m in the middle of Origins [last week’s purchase], it’ll be a different perspective on the same subject.

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.