We sell books: The Reading Room - ‘Small bookshops, curated by people who care, make a difference’

Orlagh Kelly owns The Reading Room bookshop on Main Street in Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim.

We sell books: The Reading Room - ‘Small bookshops, curated by people who care, make a difference’

Orlagh Kelly owns The Reading Room bookshop on Main Street in Carrick-on-Shannon in Co Leitrim.

How long have you been in business?

Since 2006. I worked in a bank before that, but this was something I always wanted to do. I took a year’s sabbatical and said I’d try it and I never went back.

What was it like, going from the bank to bookselling?

The passion for what you’re doing takes over — it was a different lifestyle to working in a bank. You don’t go into bookselling to become a millionaire but it changes the way you look at life and how you live it. There’s a holistic approach to living because the pace is different, people come in to chat and you’re talking about different things.

The premises is small so everything here is curated by me and here for a reason, and people come in because of that — but it’s also a meeting place, somewhere for a chat. There was no way of going back.

Why Carrick-on-Shannon?

I’m originally from Sligo, just over the border. When I was in the bank, I lived in lots of different places but I had settled in Galway and felt in terms of the bookshop that it was ‘now or never’. Carrick-on-Shannon is a really lovely town, and there’s so much happening, it’s very vibrant. Because Leitrim is so small, if something’s happening, everyone tries to be part of it, there’s a real sense of community. It is also lovely in the summer, people come in on boats, and there’s a really nice atmosphere.

What are the rewards of being a bookseller?

The wonderful thing about books is that you’re not just talking about books but what’s in those books — your reaction to what’s in them, to the characters, how you feel. Amazon can find an algorithm to suggest your next book but that’s a really narrow measure, whereas if you’re chatting to people you get more of a sense of what people are looking for.

And people want to come in and talk about their reaction and emotions regarding books. That’s why small bookshops, curated by people who care, make a difference. That might be too big a term but I’d like to think I’m a strong contributor to that — you mightn’t talk to me about a book but you might talk to a staff member or to someone else who’s here. It’s nice.

You offer a bespoke subscription service, can you tell us more about that?

It’s huge, it’s amazing — I dipped a toe in it a few years ago and I sell books now all over the country. I don’t have the financial wherewithal to sell online because I’m essentially a one-woman operation, though I have someone who helps part-time. For the book subscription, we send out a form and you give us details about yourself, as much information as we can get, and we send you a book a month for as long as you stipulate, three, six or 12 months.

The big feedback is that the children and adults who subscribe like to get something nice in the post. I’m not trying to get people out of their comfort zone, I’m not a believer in that, I want to know as much as I can about a subscriber because I want to give them something new to read, but also something they’ll enjoy. There’s no point in giving someone a book that they’ll only read two pages from, because I know what that’s like myself — it’d be distressing to get a book in the post and for that to happen.

You also run several book clubs.

Yes, I run adult ones and four children’s book clubs, aged 7-9, 10-12, 12-15 and 15 up. By God, do you learn stuff [laughs].

The tween age group can be difficult in terms of material…

Yes, it’s a really tricky age, 10-12, they’re straining to grow up and if they take to reading it’s difficult to say ‘slow down’.

Because so many YA books are issue-driven it can be difficult, but if you feel your child is comfortable reading a book, let them go for it. They can always come back to it in a few years and really ‘get’ it.

And if there’s something about sex or drink or whatever in it, they can put that in a different place to us. We’re the ones saying ‘oh God’ but they don’t even mind. But yes, that market is hard, kids form tastes between 10 and 12 really solidly.

Can you recommend three books?

  • I just finished Kiley Reid’s Such A Fun Age, I really liked it; she’s up there in book of the year territory already. It’s so clever about race and class, capturing that.
  • I also really enjoyed The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood.
  • Also Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, it’s the follow-up to Diary of a Bookseller — I read those and thought, ‘How is he in my shop?’. I’d imagine that’s a universal reaction among booksellers.


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