In my case, the call came from the far side of Woodbine Books in Kilcullen.
A few weeks ago, just before we all went into hermit mode, I walked through Woodbine’s door to an instant call across the room. OK, it wasn’t from a person, just a display. But I ignored discounted books, current fiction and new releases to pick a book from the display because I “had to have it” before the other two customers in the store saw it. Then I perused the rest of the display tower’s shelves and realized it was full of similar temptations. It took some effort, but I limited myself to just three books.
So much for casual browsing before making a decision.
One of my new books is a multi-lingual book of poetry, which generated a wonderfully rambling conversation with owner Dawn Behan while we chatted at the till. From multilingualism we digressed to kids, school books and kids’ habits. I’d forgotten that there are schools who prefer tablets to printed texts because they can be updated less expensively than books – and don’t have to be replaced when fill-in-the-blanks workbooks are rendered unusable every year because their blanks have been filled in. While we’d both seen studies comparing learning from pages with screens, neither of us knows the continuing replacement cost of tablets in a typical school environment, where kids tend to act like kids. At one point we both referred to a recent news article on the physiology of learning that used brain scans and similar techniques to discover that increased use of screen readers leads to reduced language skills among preschoolers. I haven’t – and probably won’t – read the complete scientific study to see if this is a result of the screen’s image quality or if time spent staring at a screen is time that could otherwise be spent interacting with people, pets and three dimensional objects – the real world, not the virtual one. Could this also be the origin story of internet trolls? [And now, after weeks of online existence, how would we continue this conversation?]
After a bit of this we went back to kids – and how humans evolved opposable thumbs so that we could text to each other. While texting and emojis might be the bugbears of this generation’s parents, what bothered our parents about us? And their parents about them? Crazy driving [of carriages, both horseless and horsed] or telephone use? It appears that fewer of today’s teens are interested in driving, but peer communication – unsupervised and unmediated by parents and other authority figures – is still an essential part of teen life. Has anything changed from generation to generation aside from the technology that maturing children use to declare their independence? [Have a few minutes? Listen to the Telephone Song and What’s the Matter with Kids Today from 1960’s Bye Bye Birdie.]
And so…what’s the next communications technology enabling normal adolescents to try out their wings while still hanging around the nest? It probably already exists, lurking undetected in some parent’s garage or basement.
Oh, and back to Woodbine Books itself – like most indie bookstores, Woodbine’s full of ideas, some on paper, lots more in conversation, wandering, exploring and listening to the shopkeepers, staff and other shoppers, too. It’s an extension of its owner’s – and its town’s – personality. How else could we gossip about teens and other absent people?
I’ll admit that years of retail experience and months of wandering Ireland’s indie bookstores have left me ticking off mental boxes of the good, bad and ugly of stores. Woodbine is all good. In fact, it’s better than that. And it’s not just this one display. Dawn uses vertical space where other shops use tabletops. Intentionally or not, she takes advantage of natural light from all her windows. When I returned to the store after lunch I found different displays highlighted with daylight from angles I hadn’t seen a few hours earlier.
And then we can add her book clubs and the store’s coffee corner to see just a few of the reasons why Woodbine was named Ireland’s 2018 Independent Bookstore of the Year – and have been shortlisted again for this year. I’m looking forwarded to their re-opening and I know that I’ll be stopping back next time I’m in the area. You might want to do the same.
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.