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.

The Joy of Bookshops: News from Nowhere, Liverpool

For the second in our series of profiles of some of our favourite places – bookshops – we head to the port city of Liverpool and bustling Bold Street. As a kid growing up in West Lancashire, our shopping trips were more often than not into Liverpool and if there are two things I remember about those Saturdays to get shirts for school or a new pair of shoes, they are baked potatoes in a cafe near the station and News from Nowhere. Named for the William Morris book, it was then as it is now, representative of everything a radical bookshop should be: driven by passion, committed to society and its community, and filled from floor to ceiling with words on paper; words to inspire, inform and entertain.

News from Nowhere was founded in 1974 and since 1981 has been run by a women’s collective, a workers cooperative that runs the shop as a not-for-profit community business. Their philosophy of bookselling is apparent from the moment you walk in through the door of this friendly, welcoming space, browse the shelves of books and magazines, or read what they say about themselves on their website:

“We hope that the literature we stock empowers & inspires people to make positive changes to the world – from challenging the power of corporate capitalism to breaking down prejudiced attitudes to others & ourselves.”

This is not only about what books you will find but also how the shop works as a collective, about the campaigns the shop actively supports, and the numerous local initiatives they have partnered with over the years. The campaigns have included the Stop the War campaign and support for the Liverpool Dockers, they have been involved with local refugee and asylum-seeker groups as well as hosting events to mark Chinese New Year, Martin Luther King Day, International Women’s Day, Jewish Book Week, Pride Week and World Aids Day among many, many others.

In the past couple of months I have had the pleasure of returning to Liverpool a couple of times for my first visits in over half a decade. The city has changed a lot since those childhood shopping trips but it was a great pleasure to been welcomed into News from Nowhere once more, and I was very proud to spy Elsewhere on their rack of journals, magazines and periodicals.

As I write these words we are trying to comprehend events in Florida and the political response to hate crime, while thugs are fighting on French streets under national flags and refugees across Europe are targeted with words and sometimes fists and firebombs. Now, as much as ever, we need places like News from Nowhere to remind us that there is an alternative and to provide us with the words of inspiration, information and encouragement to help us believe we can get there:

“In our 21st Century that means publicising that there is a large and growing peace movement in Israel, that there is always an alternative to war, that white people can work alongside black for racial justice, that globalisation can be countered by grassroots movements, that realising our personal power can empower us to change the world and that books are, as ever, crucial in that path to empowerment and justice.”

If you are ever in Liverpool there are plenty of things you really should see. And News from Nowhere is right at the top of the list.

News from Nowhere (website)
96 Bold Street, Liverpool L1 4HY (googlemaps)

The Joy of Bookshops: Zabriskie, Berlin

Why do we love bookshops? For me there are two main reasons for loving a bookshop, each related to the type of establishment they be. The first is the cavernous hall, or the seemingly endless collection of rooms, with shelves from floor to ceiling. It is, on first glance, overwhelming. It smells of dust and leather and childhood. If you give it time, your explorations will be rewarded. It is a bookshop as a journey of discovery, to see what you might find and take home with you.

The second reason, and the second type of bookshop, is very different. It is a place with a purpose. It is the vision of one, two or a small group of people. It is a reflection of taste, of specific interest or passion. It is a place with identity, beyond simply ‘books’. And this, on a leafy side street in Berlin-Kreuzberg, across the road from a supermarket and a short walk to the banks of the canal and the urban hustle and bustle of Kotbusser Tor, is where we find Zabriskie.

‘You really need to visit Zabriskie… it is exactly our type of place.’

This was Julia, a few weeks ago before we had one of our periodic meetings to see each other face to face and have a chat about Elsewhere before meeting another friend for a drink. We live on opposite sides of the city and do not see each other in person that often. Indeed, Elsewhere in general is a print journal created thanks to the communication possibilities of technology, a throwback publication that needs the 21st century internet to survive. In any case, Zabriskie in Kreuzberg (Julia’s side of the city) had agreed to stock the journal a few months ago and ever since she had been urging me to go and have a look at this bookshop that was ‘exactly our type of place’.

She was, she is (of course) exactly right. 

Zabriskie is the brainchild of Lorena and Jean and is subtitled ‘Buchladen für Kultur und Natur’. Culture and Nature. The small-but-perfectly-formed selection of books reflects the owners’ interests and passions and brings together in English and in German some of our favourite writers. As I browsed their shelves, titled ‘Natural History’, ‘Counterculture’, ‘Utopias’, ‘Travel’ and more, I saw so many of the names that sit on my shelves at home. Solnit, Sebald and Macfarlane. Orwell, Chomsky and Deakin. There were books about identifying wild plants and musical revolution in Brazil, a portrait of Iran and the art of surviving the 1980s. The shelves house William Morris’ News from Nowhere and Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, as well as handbooks for new beginnings and field guides for getting lost. The room is small but it contains worlds, as the best bookshops do and I could have spent hours exploring their selection.

As befitting the first bookshop we have written about on our blog, Zabriskie’s name is itself intrinsically linked with place. Zabriskie Point in Death Valley gives its name to a Michelangelo Antonioni film from 1970 that has this location as a symbol of the soul of the wilderness that is threatened by new real estate development. Fittingly, for a shop that takes its name from one of the cult films of American counterculture, Lorena and Jean describe their bookshop as a place that concerns itself with cultural phenomenon that sit out of the range of the mainstream radar. What is also wonderful is that they not only promote writers of such topics, but they also offer support and visibility to independent publishers and small presses such as ourselves. 

Nature and Culture. When I flick through the first three issues of Elsewhere I think there is a lot of both contained within our pages. It is fantastic that our city houses a bookshop where our journal feels so at home. If you ever find yourself wandering the streets of Berlin, in search of inspiration, you will find it not only in the people, the buildings and the stories of the city, but also on the shelves of Zabriskie. 

Zabriskie (website)
Manteuffelstr. 73, 10999 Berlin (googlemaps)

We love bookshops and we will be profiling some more of our partners who support us by selling Elsewhere in the next couple of months.