In which I continue my "biblio-crawl" through the bookshops of Dublin. This might be of interest to a bibliophile coming here on holiday or a Dubliner curious to see how his or her views compare with mine. I don't understand why there are so few reviews of bookshops, when newspapers and magazines and the internet are crammed with restaurant and hotel reviews.
Veritas Books, Abbey Street
Considering this is Dublin's city centre's premier Catholic bookshop, it might be expected to feature pretty highly in my favourites. Alas, such is not the case.
First of all, the good things. Veritas Books is clean and bright and well-laid out. It smells and looks nice, because of all the ornaments and candles and calendars and other decorative items on sale. (The giant nativity sets and rosary beads and the enormous holy statues are especially striking.) It's fantastically well-stocked and the staff are helpful and pleasant.
But I can't spend more than ten minutes in this shop without getting strangely depressed. It has many interesting and scholarly and worthwhile books, but the vast majority of its books seem to be of a rather wishy-washy, bland, candles-and-muzak type. Pluck a book from its shelves at random and its likely to have a title like: "Rediscovering Celtic Christianity". There will be a soft-focus cover of a ripple in a pond, or a bird in the sky. The blurb will probably begin something like this: "In our fast-paced society, many increasingly feel a sense of emptiness..."
Now, I'm not necessarily dismissing this type of publication. Goodness knows our society is lacking in gentleness. The last thing I would ever want to do is sneer at this sort of "Thought for the Day" spirituality. But such perfume, pleasant enough in moderation, positively makes your eyes water when it is present in such overpowering quantities.
In short, Veritas Books seems too much like the Mind, Body and Spirit shelves of an ordinary bookshop, except with a little bit of Christianity (as Fr. Brian Darcy might put it) sprinkled on top. It's a good port of call if you are looking for a particular Catholic book, but not somewhere I like to browse.
Dubray Books, Grafton Street
Every Dubray bookshop is pretty much the same as every other Dubray bookshop. You are unlikely to find anything even a half a step off the beaten track in Dubray. The classic literature section is usually quite extensive. The Grafton Street branch has a fairly wide stock, and if you are looking for a particular book that was either recently published or that is a classic everybody has heard of, you'll more than likely find it here. It's a bit pokey, but not in a pleasant way. Again, anything but a browser's paradise. They pack the shelves uncomfortably tight.
Eason, O'Connell Street
Everybody calls this shop "Eason's", even though the name is quite clearly spelled Eason. An odd Dublin quirk.
This shop, of course, is more of a municipal institution than a mere bookshop, being in the centre of Dublin's main street, and under whose clock generations of Dubliners have arranged to meet. Considering its size, it's not as well-stocked as you might suppose, and it's often surprising what books you can't find there. On the other hand, it has more of a grab-bag flavour than the drearily predictable Dubray Books (and such like stores)-- especially on the basement, where the classics, poetry, religion, philosophy, and all the other more chewable subjects are shelved.
It has probably the best selections of newspapers and magazines in Dublin, and a walk around this area is quite depressing-- there seem to be any number of publications devoted to karate, soap operas, TV vintage tractors and record collecting, while the more literary and philosophical magazines hardly make up so much as a drop in the ocean.
The first floor is full of stationery and greeting cards, while there is a Tower Records shop on the top floor. Both of these are pleasant to walk around.
There are other Eason bookshops scattered around the country, especially in train stations and airports. You're unlikely to find anything outside the latest bestseller lists in these. Recently, Eason have taken over the Hughes and Hughes chain of bookshops, which was (I always assumed) an Irish version of Barnes and Noble and was even more soulless than Dubray Books. They can't get any worse under the new management.
(There is one former Hughes and Hughes shop, now an Eason shop, which is not entirely soulless. The branch in Stephen's Green Shopping Centre has a discount section downstairs that throws up a fair amount of surprises. The "For Clearance" shelf especially is worth checking out.)
Years and years ago, Easons used a very distinctive and attractive combinaton of colours on their branding-- navy and emerald stripes. They have replaced this with a blander, brighter green. I think it's a shame.
More to come!