Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ireland, in bookstores

So Marie (the Boston Bibliophile) kindly requested I post about my recent trip to Ireland. Simply put: it was fun. But more than the vacation itself, I had the opportunity to visit a few Irish bookstores, get some bookmarks, and experience the general Irish bookish-ness. A nice vacation, in other words.

Unsurprisingly, the big chain Eason was the most common bookstore (that I saw), and to be honest it was fairly disappointing in all its forms. Big and shiny like the best of them, the collections were fairly limited, predictable and oddly American*. The only interesting aspect in the Eason stores I encountered was their support of Sony Readers - a rare sight indeed.

Next up was Dubray, which was a significant improvement. Also a chain, Dubray actually had a lot of books (and much less noise) as compared to Eason. I visited one in Dublin and one in Galway, and both impressed me with the amount of books they managed to fit into their relatively smaller space. The Galway one (where I spent significantly more time) also had a dedicated Irish fiction bookcase that went beyond the expected hits and included several poetry collections and independently published Irish books. And though their fiction section was very Anglo-centric (little translated literature, a lot of American books), their sci-fi/fantasy section was overflowing with classics and newer titles. Quite impressive.

Lastly, I had hoped to visit the recommended Kennys Books (also in Galway). What ended up happening, however, was that I noticed a young man (reading a graphic novel, by the way - V for Vendetta, I believe? I might be mis-remembering) wearing a sign with an arrow towards Charlie Byrne's Bookshop. I followed it rather on a whim, and discovered one of those rare, astonishing bookstores. We're talking big collection - an incredibly packed bookcase lining the outer wall of the store, as well as shelves upon shelves of used and new books inside. The staff recommendations shelf came as a particular surprise, containing all sorts of unexpected and exciting books - I picked up a Peirene novella off the shelf, and in addition to my used purchases, I also snagged a new, ridiculously cheap copy of Matterhorn. I spent a long time in the store, and could have easily kept browsing for several more hours. I never did make it to Kennys (I had apparently used up my "bookstore quota" for the vacation. As if.). Next time, I suppose. But I'll definitely be returning to Charlie Byrne's as well.

As for bookmarks: I got extraordinarily lucky this trip. Rather than hunting down tacky souvenir bookmarks for purchase, lovely bookmarks kept finding me - I got two handmade bookmarks at the Celtic and Prehistoric Museum in Dingle, as well as a couple gifts from family friends. All in all, a successfully trip, both for the traveling itself and the general book buying and book appreciation. Too bad I hardly got any reading done.

* Though for the most part I'm referring to books originating in the U.S., American in this case also includes Canada... yes, I am well aware of how inaccurate a name it is.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A disappointing underdog | Thoughts

So I've been reading this fairly slim Israeli, independently published poetry collection for just over a month now. I'm not done yet. In fact, I'm only two-thirds of the way through. The book - with its bright orange cover - mocks me from my bedside. I can't seem to finish it.

I know poetry collections aren't like novels. Novels usually need to be read straight through - stops along the way break up the flow and generally make it harder for me to appreciate the book. Poetry isn't like that. Poetry can be read in pieces, spread out across years and years. And yet there's something about reading a poetry collection straight through that thrills me. Reading Sylvia Plath's The Colossus a few weeks back was like that - exhilaration and excitement at the way the poems fit together but didn't overlap. The way they didn't repeat themselves. The way they each stood out.

There's something about rooting for the underdog. It's like the love for all things indie, or strange literature, or translated books, or all of the above. A small, Israeli published poetry collection? Underdog laws say I ought to praise it highly, recommend it to all my friends, spread the word. But I can't, and I feel guilty for it.

The reason I can't is because the collection is, for lack of a better term, boring. The language is lovely and the poems have a great sound when read aloud, but they are lacking heart, diversity and fire. Religious half-themes crop up frequently, but rather emptily, more for their vocabulary than for their actual soul. And personal references are rather detached and emotionless. These poems are bland - not dull and certainly not badly written, but nothing worth mentioning by name and certainly not worth reading in one sitting. They are repetitive. They do not move me.