Jim Cooney owns and runs Cooney’s Bookshop, at the Mall, South Square, Macroom, Co Cork, writes.
How long have you been in business?
I have been in business 40 years. I was doing some tidying up there, and I found receipts from an auction in Bandon from January 31, 1980. That was my first purchase of books. I started in the South Square in Macroom, I moved to the Middle Square for 21 years, and now I’m back in the South Square again.
What kind of books do you sell?
I will buy anything as long as I can think I can sell it, I particularly like it, or I feel it should be rescued. I try and please everybody. My focus would be on Irish history, non-fiction and older, out-of-print books.
How did you get into the book business?
I got into it almost accidentally. It was the end of the 1970s, I had a young family and I was poor. I saw an ad in the paper looking for people to sell World Book encyclopedias. I answered the ad and took up that job for about two years. Whatever money I made, I put it into setting up the book shop.
Selling encyclopaedias door-to-door was great at the time because it was relatively easy to sell them, whereas now they are investing in technology and all of that. I had always been a collector of books, I had comics going back to when I was a child, and I was reading around the clock.
What is your customer base like?
[As well as local people] I would have customers from Cork city and from Kerry, who come out especially or call on their way passing through. I would also have built up a list of collectors and I know lots of dealers. Lots of books, if I could lay my hands on them, I would only need to lift the phone and I would have customers waiting for them.
What are people interested in buying?
Irish history and local history are very popular. There is also a good market for books in the Irish language because they have got very scarce. Also, interesting non-fiction across the board always does well. What has become, for me, anyway, close to unsellable is anything in the line of reference, like encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases.
Gardening is dead but cookery isn’t — people still love cookery books.
But with gardening, they just take a photo and they Google it. One has to be careful of buying too much of anything, although that doesn’t stop me continually buying too much of everything, which is why I have 25,000 books, which is 20,000 too many.
Where do you get your books?
I get a lot from house clearances when people have died, unfortunately.
Is that difficult?
I’m usually contacted and I say to the people that I’m sorry for their loss but to take their time, go through everything and make sure everybody in the family is sure they want to part with stuff and get back to me. People react differently to death. Some people want the house cleared and painted the following week and other people can’t do it for years. I have a reputation for taking things slowly and listening to people, and at the end of the day paying a fair price, and people will pass that on. It is sad and I often try and keep one book from each collection for my own collection, a little reminder of who it came from.
Could you recommend some books or authors?
The first would be David McCullagh’s two-volume biography of de Valera. It is marvellously written and is great on the social history of the time, and he doesn’t deny that Dev was somewhat responsible for the Civil War, or that he was a pain in the ass.
Anything by Bill Bryson but The Body is the latest one which I am reading at the moment, and it is terrific, particularly as it is about something of which I knew frighteningly little.
At 5am this morning, I was reading Say Nothing [A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland] by Patrick Radden Keefe. Everybody should read it. It’s all about the Price sisters, Jean McConville, Gerry Adams and the Boston tapes. It is absolutely brilliant.
If I want a break from non-fiction, I like thrillers, Jane Casey and Patricia Gibney are very good.
Your love for books is obvious…
I look at books the way John B Keane looked at whiskey. There’s a clip some place of John B on the Late Late describing to Gay how he loved whisky coming out of the bottle, the plop it makes going into the glass, the colour of it, and the smell. It’s the same way with me and books. I love the shape, the size, the feel, the dust-jacket, the smell of them. I take off the dust-jacket and look at the spine, all of that. I couldn’t go anywhere without a book or I couldn’t sleep in a house without a book.