herald

Saturday 18 August 2018

Eason's 125-year chapter in the literary history of our city must be celebrated

Over the past 125 years there have been two types of author visits to Eason's Bookshop in O'Connell Street.

The first occurs with huge fanfare: screaming teenagers greeting a posing David Hasselhoff, who famously climbed onto the signing table, or crime aficionados wondering how anyone in such demure attire as PD James could murder so many characters.

Occasionally these visits get overheated, with the doors closed -- for differing reasons -- during signings by U2, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Other author visits are quieter affairs. Some years ago Maeve Binchy observed such a surreptitious visit in progress, when an Irish playwright stepped back with quiet satisfaction, having furtively rearranged the "Just Published" shelf so that his recently published play script was now displayed face outwards.

Seeing Maeve, he blushed like a guilty schoolboy. "It's okay, we're not in opposition," she smilingly reassured him, stepping forward to tidy the huge display of her latest blockbuster, with the same pride as someone tending to a corner of their garden.



Stranger

It doesn't matter if your books sell worldwide or a mere 200 copies to poetry lovers: there is the same instinctively, ancestral thrill for any Dublin writer at seeing their latest book displayed in Dublin's most famous bookshop.

Because at some stage during their childhood they fantasised that one day a stranger would walk in to this institution and purchase a book with their name on the cover.

Eason's Bookshop is a very democratic space. Anyone is free to purchase a book, once they have money, and anyone without money is free to browse and dream.

When Picasso was asked when was a painting finished, he replied "when the gentleman from the gallery comes to hang it".

As a playwright, I've discovered that a play is only finished when the gentlemen from the press come to hang the playwright. For Irish writers, a book is only truly finished when an Eason's employee removes it from a box and hangs it on a display unit.

This week Eason's celebrates its 125th anniversary, but there is a danger of taking it for granted, simply because it has always been part of the backdrop of Dubliners' lives -- not just as a bookshop but as a landmark outside which generations of lovers have met for dates.

Dublin is so indisputably a writer's and reader's city that last year it was formally designated as the fourth UNESCO City of Literature.

In an era when bankers have dragged Ireland's reputation through the mud, it has to be a source of celebration that anyone who traverses our capital's streets will constantly pass landmarks immortalised by some of the 20th Century's greatest writers.

But any City of Literature does not just need writers, it needs bookshops: magical places where readers stumble upon the latest Irish bestseller or on some obscure South American novelist who opens up a window in their mind.

The closure this year of Waterstones in Dublin reminded us that bookselling is both a precious and a perilous business.

The extraordinary emporiums of my youth -- like Parsons Bookshop on Baggot Street Bridge or Greene's Bookshop, which radiated a sense of stepping backwards in time, are gone.

However the arrival of the Gutter Bookshop shows that the passion and entrepreneurship of bookselling has not deserted Dublin.

But throughout wars and recessions, Eason's has kept its doors open to book-buyers and new writers. When so much has collapsed, its survival is a success worth celebrating.

Long may children marvel there at their first picture books; long may pensioners chatter in its cafe; long may writers furtively rearrange titles on shelves, long may people find the perfect book for some awkward relation.

Long may book lovers throng its shop floor by day and long may young lovers meet outside it, when the bookshop's shutters are pulled down behind them and the romance of the evening stretches before them.

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