Quit taking my stuff! On bookshops and the recession.


Reading the Anti-Room a little while ago while brewing a nice big pot of Saturday morning chai and munching on some overly-wholesome muesli, I came across a post lamenting the impending closure of two of Dublin’s favourite bookshops, namely the Dawson Street and Jervis Street branches of Waterstones.

Image of the inside of a bookstore, with shelves along the wall and also tables covered in books.

The spaces to the side of those tables? The perfect size for a curled-up eight-year-old bookworm.

My first reaction to this was relief. You see, the Waterstones that I grew up in was their Cork branch. Waterstones in Cork was where I used to go with my parents on weekends, where I was left entirely undisturbed to curl up on the perfectly-sized empty shelf under their tables to read to my heart’s content. It was where I first made the big step out of the kids’ section into the wonderful, scary world of grown-up books.

But you know what? The fact that the bookshop I grew up with is safe for the moment doesn’t matter a damn. What matters is that this recession is stealing away so many of the people and places that we grew up with. It started oh-so-slowly and around the edges. Job losses in industry, a slowdown in immigration. So gradually that many of us didn’t notice in our day-to-day lives. We worried a bit more for our jobs. We were less inclined to take risks. But we got on with things more or less as we had done.

But now? Now a thousand people are leaving my country every week. And we can no longer afford to keep some of our most lovely bookshops. And I can feel this insidious, gnawing sense of loss and fear getting closer to my heart and to my life. This helpless outrage every time I’m told that it was me and those like me who caused this, when we were never the ones living it up and squandering everything we had when we could. This anxious worry that this place that I love is being steadily gutted, piece by inevitable piece, while we stand by. While we have our going-away parties and queue for our flights.

And yes, I know it’s just a couple of bookshops. But closing a couple of bookshops means that we live in a city that can no longer afford those bookshops. A city that looks a lot like it used to, but where something is missing. And I can’t help but wonder when we’ll find out exactly how much is missing, and how much of it we’ll be able to regain.

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5 thoughts on “Quit taking my stuff! On bookshops and the recession.

  1. What I’m waiting for is to hear that some of my favourite secondhand bookstores are gone. But yes completely agree with you that this feels like the edges of my life are being slowly pared away.

  2. That’s a beautiful phrase, Amanda, and it sums up how I feel about it perfectly.

    • Part of being a writer is to find the expressions that best encapsulate what members of a society feel. Glad you like that phrase Ellen, it means I’m doing my job right.

  3. Life changes. Get used to it.

    I don’t mean that in a harsh way. Lots of thing are gone – just ask Pete St John.

    But they will be replaced by other things, just as they replaced other things – and when your old you’ll be able to say “Remember when we used to go to Waterstones – god they were good times. Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach, bless him. Yes, we were poor but we were happy.”

    Nostalgia, eh – you wouldn’t be up to it.

    • I get you. I think the major thing I’m annoyed about isn’t that things are changing, it’s that things are changing for the worse in a way that really, really shouldn’t have happened, and that could have been prevented. Things like the bookshops closing are sad, but they’re just a visible sign of that. And that is a thing that Sucks.

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