Dublin’s Best Bookshops, A Personal Opinion!
Daniel Bolger returns with a feature on Dublin’s best bookshops.
Here is a list of what I judge to be some of the best bookshops in Dublin, and it’s in no particular order. Now, I’m no authority on Dublin or bookshops, but I worked in a larger bookshop in Dublin City Centre for a while a couple of years ago (though I was by no means a proper bookseller), plus I buy more books than I can reasonably afford. It is not definitive, but rather a list of five really good places to buy books if you’re out and about in Dublin City Centre, and if you want a place a little different or more intimate than the big dogs and stickered foyers of Dawson Street. So I’m leaving out Reed’s on Nassau Street, Waterstone’s, Hodges Figgis, Eason’s on O’Connell Street and Dubray on Grafton Street, which all have their highlights and drawbacks but which we probably all know well enough by now.
And if I’ve missed any of your favourites, please add them below in comments.
1 Ivy Exchange, Dublin 1 | +353 1 872 3297 | www.chapters.ie
Chapters probably doesn’t need another recommendation, but it’s a long-time Dublin favourite. This is a gigantic place, with new and RRP books, reduced books, and an impressively massive second-hand section that comprises the entire second floor (while this floor can lean towards messy in certain corners (if that bothers you) it’s still very well laid out), already-reduced books further reduced to clear all over the shop and lots of (very) special price tables scattered around the place. Upstairs they also have used DVDs (including box sets) and used CDs so it’s hard not to leave with *something*, given that you’ll most likely spot a book you’ve been wanting to read on sale for next to nothing. But just in terms of books, the stock is as comprehensive as anyone could reasonably expect, so it’s a good place to check first even if you’re looking for something specific and you’re near the area. The atmosphere is straightforward, that of a large bookshop, not especially warm, but that’s not really what you come for.
The Winding Stair
40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1 | +353 1 872 6576 | www.winding-stair.com
This place is also known for its restaurant, and it has a great location right next to the Ha’Penny Bridge and it’s a beacon of care and charm on the Liffey’s north quays. It’s just a lovely bookshop, ridiculously charming, with buckets of character: lengthy staff recommendations you don’t have to squint to read, nice coffee, dark wood shelves, comfy furniture. The selection is good, and what you’d expect for a shop of its size, plus some second-hand books, but the best part is the old-school, bohemian atmosphere which has the effect of making you feel smart and classy just walking in. It is also staffed by super-nice people; they get a lot of tourists, given the location, and standing outside of it for a few minutes, I heard at least three groups say, ‘This looks nice’, and go in for a look. One woman I spoke to, Nanette from Dublin, is a recently regular customer there: ‘I was looking for that book [a Ted Hughes collection] for ages, and I’d never been in here before but I was walking by once and saw it in the window, it’sa lovely little place.’
The Gutter Bookshop
Cow’s Lane, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 | +353 1 679 9206 | www.gutterbookshop.com
This great new independent bookshop, with easy-to-talk-to, knowledgeable staff that are adept at tracking down books for you, is in a fantastic area: on Cow’s Lane: that nice, quiet spot away from the loud throngs in Temple Bar, with delicious cafes (including Queen of Tarts) across the way, and a common area to sit down outside that is noticeably clean and hassle-free. They also always have good music playing (closer to an iTunes playlist than chatty radio or head-office-approved mix CDs), which makes browsing a pleasure; and because the selection, while not huge, is obviously carefully chosen and of a high standard (not high-brow, just high-quality), you can spend more time than you meant to reading the blurbs of titles you might not have noticed in other stores. Inside, it’s clean and bright, truly a shop for book lovers, but inviting enough for anyone passing by; there’s even a cute little area for the kids’ books, complete with colourful chairs and fake grass on the floor; they also host book clubs and events, like book launches and signings. Most of all, there is a palpable atmosphere of enthusiasm for reading and love of books. I was there recently with Orlaith Delaney, a friend of mine from Laois, who commented on it being ‘nice and bright, spacious not as cluttered as the other small shops. Plus the books are interesting, not like in [large chain].’
Perfectly located on College Green, the people who work at Books Upstairs (usually it’s just one at the till) are incredibly friendly and genuinely good-natured. It’s a small shop with a quiet, homey, lived-in atmosphere (no small feat, as this is just opposite Trinity on Dame Street, remember) with its original features and creaky floorboards and lots of interesting books (they are particularly strong on Irish interest titles). Like most small shops, the focus is on selection, which is diverse and high-quality and full of harder-to-find books; the shelves are stocked full of new, recent and classic titles you probably want to read (or at least know you’re *supposed* to want to read!) of all genres. They even have a comprehensive selection of journals on the second level, and it was one of the first in the country to have a LGBT section. Plus, just about everything is really inexpensive it’s sort of the original bargain bookshop. But what’s most striking is the amount of books you might not have even noticed somewhere else, but which here you find yourself leafing through and seriously considering buying in this lovely shop is full of surprises, and a great place to find something new to read.
This Oxfam charity shop just sells books, so if you’re looking for a second-hand bookshop that’s *just* a second-hand bookshop (not clothes + a few books, or furniture + a few books), this is a good bet. It is clean and modern and bright inside, with friendly staff, and it doesn’t have the familiar musty, over-worn atmosphere of some charity/second-hand shops it isn’t the cheapest second-hand bookshop around, but that doesn’t matter: it’s as cheap as anywhere and the small change you do spend is going to Oxfam. One avid reader I spoke to, Tony McDermott from Lucan, comes here first whenever he’s looking for a new book: ‘I’m in here regularly it’s a good selection, and you find some surprises you wouldn’t expect, so it’s nice for impulse buys that you know is going to a good cause.’ True that add to that the fact that the books are all in good condition (i.e. theyíre not scribbled all over, with passages inexplicably underlined thrice in red ink) and the books are logically organised making browsing easy, this bookshop should be on the route of everyone buying books in the City Centre.