The news that Chapters bookshops is closing will sadden anyone who loves books and as someone who shopped there regularly since the 1990s, it makes me particularly reflective.
My memories of Chapters are vast and there is no escaping the fact that the announcement on Friday was a bad days for books and book lovers in Dublin as it reduced the number of independent bookshops in the city centre.
A very dear friend of mine worked in Chapters for many years but I didn’t just shop there for reasons of personal loyalty, I shopped there because it was a brilliant bookshop.
Like all great bookshops, Chapters was imbued with a sense of creativity in the broadest sense, an openness to new ideas, new literature and new forms of literature.
To walk into the store was to walk into a place of almost infinite possibility. It had extraordinary diversity. It had nearly every book on every subject you could imagine. If they didn’t have it, they could get it for you. The second hand bookshop which used to be upstairs was a treasure trove.
The new books section downstairs had everything. They had a brilliant current affairs section, they had probably the best sci-fi and horror book selection of any shop in Ireland and they were one of the first bookshops to really push graphic novels.
They were also among the first book shops in Ireland to sell large edition paperbacks and their mix of new, secondhand and bargain books – as well as the presence of trade paperbacks – made them a unique bookshop in the country.
I remember buying my first James Lee Burke novel there. He is an incredible crime novelist. I also bought my first John Connolly book there and began my introduction to the troubled world of Charlie Parker. Most books I have on politics I got there. My shelves are full of their books. My book memories are full of Chapters memories.
It was a shop that demonstrated all that a bookshop could be.
If we do really value books – and I am sure we do as a country – then we do have to buy books in bookshops.
It is the most important thing we can do as a society if we value independent bookshops. That is the critical thing.
There are many indicators that bookselling can do well in other parts of the country. I’m thinking of Worm Books in Schull, Bantry Books in Bantry and the Gutter bookshop with its wonderful store in Dalkey. But if we want to support bookshops on the scale of Chapters, we have to buy books in them. For those of us who are book lovers, there is an imperative on us to do it.
I know there are those who are concerned that the closure is another sign of cultural erosion in Dublin.
There is no doubt that we have a real challenge in our city centres at the moment as we emerge from the pandemic into a world where people’s behaviours have changed.
I am optimistic about the cultural life of this city but there must never be complacency. Culture is ever restless and ever changing and always evolving. There is a dynamic element to culture that means there is always change happening and some of that change is difficult.
But there is another element we have to be cognizant of and that is the challenge to and the future of our city centres.
That is why the work the City Council are doing in trying to think of what the future for our city will be beyond Covid is so essential.
Culture and our city need to work hand in hand to imagine a new future. But the responsibility goes beyond our city planners. It goes beyond those who set up and run bookshops. It goes beyond those who want to run theatres.
We all have to play our role. If you value bookshops, if you value cultural landmarks then the best way of ensuring their existence is to support them and use them.
But that may not be enough on its own. As we make further progress in emerging from the pandemic, city planners and the government are going to have engage in what is the future for our city centres.