I had a recent visit to The Winding Stair bookshop in Dublin. It was a highly pleasurable experience – which was reassuring, because I had found recent trips to bookshops (no names mentioned) actually quite unpleasant.
There is a rather crushing sense of being not only sold to (which is the whole purpose of the enterprise) but being sold to in a hectoring, rushed way. Celebrity authors and blaring book covers seem to be more common than they were. Book titles and subtitles partake of the language of clickbait – hyperbolic, categorical, imperative.
Do I have any empirical evidence for this? Well, no.
Perhaps it is some sensory issue on my part, I thought. And perhaps it is nostalgia for bookshops past. The Dublin of my childhood was replete with now vanished bookshops. Years ago it seemed record stores were taking their place (and Tower Records has replaced Waterstone’s on Dawson Street) After all, who can resist the march of progress and Dublin’s march into a glorious vibrant future. So what if one eccentric ageing dilletante fuddy-duddy misses the languorous bookshops of yore, with their random discoveries and unpredictable stock? If you want random, Amazon has an algorithm for that.
My visit to The Winding Stair changed this, being a purely pleasurable experience. Some was no doubt due to the stock being a little different. Some was to due with occasion, ambience, my own mood at the time, the overall situation. Ultimately however much came down to the atmosphere being one of bookishness and reflection, rather than simply selling.
And of course I bought more books there than I had in a bookshop for quite a while.