The Joy of Bookshops: Roe River Books, Dundalk

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A return to our irregular series, featuring some of our favourite places in the world: bookshops. Today, our books editor Marcel Kreuger pours over the shelves of the wonderful Roe River Books in Dundalk, Ireland:

Like libraries, independent bookstores to me are safe places. There is, of course, a materialistic aspect to their existence, but I’ve not yet encountered one merely dedicated to cold hard cash. Instead, independent bookstores are places where book lovers, amateur historians, budding poets and the local writing group can meet, browse and order (obscure) books, and talk everything literary with likeminded humans. And that might apply for small-town bookstores even more than to those in the metropolis.

Roe River Books is such a place. The only independent bookstore in Dundalk, the capital of County Louth in the Republic of Ireland with roundabout 30,000 inhabitants (and my chosen hometown), Roe River Books is the brainchild of Tom Muckian, book lover and thespian in his free time.

Roe River Books is my second stint as a bookshop owner. I ran the imaginatively titled Dundalk Bookshop from 1987 to 1992, before becoming a planning and design consultant. In 2007, a client asks me to survey the building which housed Carroll’s Educational Supplies, an institution in Dundalk where generations have bought their school books. My client informs me that he’ll likely be selling the business on after the summer season. I half-jokingly say to him not to sell it without talking to me first and thirty minutes later, I have a book shop again.

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Roe River Books still sells schoolbooks (crucial in a small town like Dundalk) but that does not mean that the range is shallow. Tom, a huge fan of thrillers and the fantastic (especially the books of John Connelly), stocks a broad range of classics of the occult like Lovecraft, Bradbury and King and, of course, a lot of Irish Noir like Connolly, Ken Bruen or Stuart Neville. Fitting for a ‘town bookshop’, local interest also plays a huge role.

We sell quite a lot of local historical publication – people are always interested in the history of their street or direct neighbourhood, and so we are also always willing to stock independent or self-published books by local authors.

Tom sees an independent, brick-and-mortar shop as the antidote to the fast, consumption-orientated world of online (book) shopping, as place to linger, a place to appreciate the magic of books. No wonder that Roe River Books self-identify as ‘luddite booksellers’:

The Amazon River is the longest in the world and its online namesake seems to want to take over the world. The Roe River once held the record as the shortest river in the world. I like the idea of being the polar opposite of that online giant. We may not have every book in print but we might just have the one you need.

Come May this year, Roe River Books will move into an even bigger premise a few houses down the road that will even offer a coffee dock (one of the best smells in the world, coffee and freshly printed books) and potentially an expanded programme of readings, acoustic concerts and readings groups. And it will still remain a safe haven for book lovers from everywhere.

You can find Roe River Books online here, and in the real world at 77 Park St, Townparks, Dundalk, Co. Louth, Ireland.

Borders and their consequences: Introducing 'the corridor'

Image: Vera Drebusch

Image: Vera Drebusch

The Corridor is a new project from Ireland exploring borders and their consequences. One of the founders of the project is the Elsewhere Books Editor Marcel Krueger, who we asked to introduce the project and the first events and actions that will be taking place in the coming months:

Who needs borders anyway?

For a year now, my wife Anne and I live in Dundalk in Ireland. We moved here for a variety of reasons: to live and work in a smaller town away from the molochs of Berlin and Dublin (where renting out has become impossible anyway), to live by the sea, to be close to my office. We knew that we would be moving next to one of the main Brexit-faultlines, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The longer we live here, the more we've become fascinated with the history of our new hometown and worried about what the future might hold for the communities north and south of the border. As a writer & journalist and a curator & arts manager coming from a country which was defined by a border for several decades, we now want to explore the area through both our fields of expertise, and have created 'the corridor'.    

'the corridor' is an interdisciplinary and discursive project that which explores borders and their political, social and cultural consequences through a series of public talks, screenings and exhibitions. With artists from all fields, historians, sociologists, contemporary witnesses and other experts we want to discuss the history of the Irish border and the future challenges of the upcoming EU border for this area. Our first event series is a collaboration with the 1. Deutsches Stromorchester (1st German Electrophonic Orchestra), and you can find more details on our website. Coming events will include a fish dinner with fishermen from both sides of the border initiated by German artist Vera Drebusch, and an exchange about walking borders between Elsewhere editor-in-chief Paul Scraton and Irish writers Garett Carr and Evelyn Conlon. 

To paraphrase Jan Morris, if race is a fraud, then nationality is a cruel pretense. There is nothing organic to it. As the tangled history of the corridor between Belfast and Dublin shows, it is disposable. You can find your nationality altered for you, overnight, by statesmen far away. So who needs borders anyway?