• Observations on Books & Reading in Ireland

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 7 comments

    Justine and I spent a week in Ireland in mid-October, half in Sligo on the northwest coast, half in Dublin. We visited about a dozen bookstores and libraries and took note as best we could of the literary culture. Here are a few (hopefully not lame) observations:


    1. Two of the Dublin bookstores we stopped at mark their books up from the cover price. I don’t mean hard-to-find first editions–I mean trade or mass market paperbacks of new or recent books. These stores place their own price tag sticker over the price printed on the book.

    One book whose cover price was 10 Euro was marked 15.50. That’s a $6 markup!

    Your turn: Have you ever seen this anywhere in the States? Is it a turn-off, or do you not mind? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below.


    2. Few new releases in Ireland (and the UK, since that’s where most of them are published) seem to come in hardcover. Most of them are trade paperbacks that are just a little taller than the standard trade. I like this. They’re also less expensive than the U.S.’s $25-30 per.

    Your turn: Do you like hardcovers or do you wish U.S. new releases came in paperback?


    3. The Long Room at Trinity College is absolutely gorgeous.

    Your turn: Have you been there? Share with us your thoughts.

    (Including whether you desperately wished the other forty-nine tourists you had to share the space with would clear out so you could take a minute to &^*(&&* breathe it all in without being jostled and talked at.)


    4. Sligo is a town of 20,000 and has, near as I could tell, at least four bookstores. How many U.S. towns have one bookstore for every 5,000 people? Way too many to count have zero bookstores for every 5,000 people. Or 10,000. Or 25,000. I remember reading an article a few years ago about the last non-used bookstore closing in Laredo, a town of nearly a quarter of a million.

    None of the four Sligo bookstores I visited were nearly as big as your average Barnes & Noble. But they did have something that I’ve never been able to find in any Barnes & Noble: charm.


    5. We took a three-hour train ride from Dublin to Sligo, and then the same ride back a few days later. I would say over half the people in our cars were reading books.

    I liked it. I fully support relaxing with TV or music or games when you’re traveling, but being surrounded by readers is calming in a way I’ve never experienced on a plane or a U.S. train.


    6. A few weeks ago I wrote about my ridiculous habits when it comes to packing books for vacation. This time, I took along two books. I read exactly one chapter of one of them and didn’t touch the other.

    Instead, I bought in Sligo a Paul Tremblay horror novel (thanks to Jason for the suggestion in the comments of our horror writing post) and then in Dublin bought Patrick DeWitt’s very funny new novel, French Exit.

    I also bought, as souvenirs, the Irish edition of Kevin Barry’s There Are Little Kingdoms and the UK edition of his Dark Lies the Island… both of which I own the U.S. copies of. As many of you know, because I talk about him relentlessly, Barry is among my favorite writers. It felt extravagant, buying copies of books I already own. But also it felt appropriate.

    Besides, look at the difference between the Irish (left) and U.S. (right) covers. Can you blame me?









    Your turn: Have you ever bought multiple copies of the same book? Why?


    7. Barry lives in County Sligo, about a half hour drive from where we stayed. My Sligo-dwelling friend, also a Barry fan, and I considered going down there to stalk visit him. But we didn’t. This time.

    Your turn: What writer would you most like to stalk visit?


    8. I’m sure the Oscar Wilde house in Dublin is interesting to look at. We wouldn’t know; it is presently covered in scaffolding and tarps.

    I’m sure the James Joyce Centre and the Dublin Writer’s Museum are interesting to look at. We wouldn’t know; we turned off of Parnell Street exactly one block shy of where those are located, and didn’t realize it until we later saw a map, and we never got back to the area. Sad trombone.

    Your turn: What’s the most interesting writer’s museum or house, etc., you’ve ever visited?

    Your turn: What city’s (or country’s, or region’s) literary heritage do you find most interesting? 



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    Barbara Mealer

    I did get to go to Hemingway’s house in Key West. I have bought physical copies of books I have on my Kindle. As to bookstores, the nearest one to me is Flagstaff or Prescott. There are a couple of small bookstores in Flagstaff along with a B&N. I like paperbacks as they are easy to handle and store. I prefer hardcovers, only they are so expensive now and I have no place to store them. I’ve found that I buy e-books most of the time due to the lack of space. I get paperback reference books if possible, going… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    It was good to see how he lived when in Key West. It was withing walking distance of the bars and on the ocean in a nice area if you were a fisherman. I love Key West for the anything goes atmosphere and the Duval Crawl is legendary.

    clare Marie

    Did you see the Book of Kells at the end of the long room? I love Ireland.


    I’ve been to Trinity and Sligo, but not the Sligo book stores. I remember years ago asking for an author in a Galway book store, and when the owner went to get the book for me, I said “I asked for this in London and they didn’t know what I was talking about” and he was very firm when answering “You’re not in London now.” I enjoyed the Dublin Writers Museum. You have to read your way through the exhibit. It talks about how literature was used to create a national identity. James Joyce and Oscar Wilde? Ok, now I… Read more »

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