We Sell Books: ‘I have 40,000 titles so there’s a decent chance you’ll find what you are looking for’

We Sell Books: ‘I have 40,000 titles so there’s a decent chance you’ll find what you are looking for’

John Wyse Jackson owns Zozimus book shop on Main St, Gorey,Co Wexford; he is also an author.The shop sells second-hand and antiquarian books.

How long have you been in business?

We have been in business for about ten years. I share a premises with The Book Café.

How did you get into the book business?

I was born in Kilkenny and grew up in Limerick; I went across to London to get a job in the 1980s. I worked in a bookshop there for 25 years, then I came back here in 2003 with my wife and children. At that point I thought I never wanted to sell another book as long as I lived but I found myself helping out on a bookstall in Arklow at one point and before I knew whereI was, I was running it. Then the opportunity came up in Gorey and it has all worked out well.

Were you always interested in books?

Very much so. Even as a little boy, my brother and I started a little public library for our friends in national school in Limerick. We would charge our friends 1p or 2p to be a member. Sometimes we still come across books which still have a little stamp in them which came from our library.

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What is Gorey like to trade in?

It’s a really busy market town, of the sort of which there aren’t many more of, in the east anyway. All the shops are occupied, which is amazing these days. Nobody quite knows why but we are just hoping it goes on like this. We are close enough to Dublin so quite a lot of people come down on a Saturday afternoon. There are a lot of independent boutiques here which are popular. Their customers also come into the bookshop and have coffee. It all works quite well.

What kind of books do you sell?

It is a very general second-hand bookshop. If somebody wants a ColmTóibín book, I would be quite likely to have most of them, or Graham Greene, or writers like that. And if you want Mills and Boon, I will have those as well. I have lots of unusual ones and some antiquarian books. You can usually get three or four books for €10 or €12, which is quite good. I buy books one at a time, I don’t go to auctions and I try really hard not to have more than one copy of each book. I have about 40,000different titles so there is a decent chance that you will find what you are looking for.

Is it a challenge finding room for them all?

It is hellish, completely impossible. About two years ago, I put another shelf on top of the other shelves and that gave me a bit more space. They’re all full now. If I find an interesting book, I buy it.

How is business?

It is great, yes. We don’t drink champagne every night but we’ve managed to put our children through college; we are still in the process of that but just about finished.

What do you enjoy about being a bookseller?

I meet a lot of people who have similar passions. It is nice when people are excited and say ‘Gosh, I’ve been looking for Barbara Pym for the last eight years, and you’ve got nine of them’. That happened today. But now I only have four of them, because they bought five of them. It might beanother six months before I come across some more. The only thing that is annoying is working too hard. I would like to write some books and I just don’t have time. When I get home I am either cleaning the next lot of books to bring in or I fall asleep in front of the television.

How many books have you written?

I’ve written a dozen or so, I did a book about James Joyce’s father with Peter Costello, a life of John Lennon, various things over the years. I have ideas for other ones but it meanssitting down and not working quite as hard as I do here. One day that will happen. I hope.

Does online retail have any impact on your business?

Not so much as one would notice. It sort of has a good effect in a way because there are quite a few small secondhand shops dotted around, and lots of charity shops but there are hardly any shops left where you can go in and find eight or nine thousand good, different novels. Then the books find you if you are standing in front of them. Whereas if you are looking at lists on the internet, it is different. But the internet does mean that if someone asks me to find a particular book, I can use it to get it for them, which I do a lot.

What three books or authors would you recommend?

In terms of thrillers, I have been recently reading a lot of RobertHarris. He is just so good. They are all different, fresh and easy to read and delightful. I have just read his most recent one The Second Sleep which was very good.

I’ve also been reading Patrick Leigh Fermor, who is a posh English travel writer who writes the most wonderful purple prose, he just brings you with him wherever he goes.

I have to mention Sebastian Barry as well. Days Without End was absolutely wonderful — intelligent, funny and moving, all the things that good books should be.

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