Marjorie Brennan meets Alan Warnock who owns and runs The Last Bookshop in Camden St, Dublin, with his wife Mary.
How long have you been open?
We will be here in Camden Street two years in November. We were very lucky to get this spot, it used to be Daintree, they sold paper and stationery. There is a a café out the back, Cake, which is very well known, and is in all the tour guides so that’s great for us. I had a shop in Ranelagh before we moved here.
How did you get into bookselling?
I used to work in Hodges Figgis. I managed the two Waterstones [Dawson St and Jervis St] at various stages, then I sold online for a while.
You run the shop with your wife?
Yes. And our dog, Bertie. He’s here most days, but he doesn’t work
Sundays. He’s a Sabbatarian.
He was in [a travel feature in] the Washington Post in June — I wasn’t. There was a photo of him peeking his head out the door. I have people coming in here especially to see him — there was a lady who came up from the country, who was peering at me and then said ‘My friend said there was a dog here’.
How is business going?
Very well. There are a lot of offices around here, then you have Airbnb, and there’s a big hotel across the way, and a new one opening, so there’s a lot of tourists around. The office workers often come in because they are looking for something to do for the other half-hour of their lunch break. Camden Street is also very hip and trendy at the minute, which is
brilliant. A lot of people pass coming from the South Circular Road,
Rathmines, and with the Luas, a lot of people are being dropped into the area so it’s great.
What kind of books do you sell?
We do second-hand books, principally. A lot of them haven’t even been read — we all have books at home we have never got around to reading. I don’t do new titles because there are loads of people doing that, and they can do it much better than I can.
The front part of the shop is Irish — which appeals to all, Irish people and tourists. One wall is history, another is Irish fiction, I have older titles, I have four shelves of Irish language as well, a lot of people are interested in that and it is difficult to get reading material if you are a Irish speaker. Then, down the back of the shop, I have fiction, history, religion, science.
There is a lot of interest in science, art and architecture, cinema, things like that. But it’s also a function of what I get from other people. So I got a whole load of books on theatre in the early part of the summer, about set design, costumes and things. They’ve all sold through.
Suddenly, I can be falling over books on philosophy or something. We get stuff from house clearances, or people are downsizing.
What are the attractions of a second-hand bookshop?
Basically, it’s a serendipity element, because people come in, and they don’t expect to find the new titles, they find things an algorithm on Amazon is never going to come up with. So although Amazon is fine if you’re looking for a specific title, it will also say that the people who bought that book also bought X,Y and Z, which kind of gets you so far, but human experience and interests are of a far greater range than a crude
algorithm. There is also a fun element to it. One Friday evening, this man came in and he had just bought a brand new spade; he was looking for gardening books, and he left with an old Irish dictionary in the old script, and he was delighted with himself.
Do you have a system for organising books?
I don’t have any system other than my memory. People say do you have somewhere you can look it up but I say, sure, there’s no point, you’d be all day looking things up and typing them in. I’d never get anything done. I’m lucky, I have a good visual
memory, I can remember the covers and all of that. I need to get out more, as they say.
Are you hopeful for the future of books?
Absolutely. Obviously Kindles are fine and work well if you’re a very busy person; if you’re travelling around the world, you’re not going to be lugging books around with you. But there is resistance with that, because there is a glare off the screen at night, it’s like watching television. People also like the experience of the book, the physical book in their hand. New titles and things like that are on the Kindle, but the further back you go, it’s more difficult to get books. On a Saturday, I’d say 80% of my sales are to people under 35. People are still interested in books, it’s all good.