BlogPaul Scollon
One Shade Too Many? June 17, 2015

Tomorrow, Thursday the 18th June, sees the publication of “Grey”, the follow up to E L James trilogy,  Fifty Shades of Grey. Fans will tell you the significance of the date (June 18th is its “hero’s” birthday). It may be a new novel, but it isn’t a new story. The previously published, Fifty Shades trilogy, has already given us Anastasia Steele’s story in all its latex clad glory. This time around James is giving us the same story again, this time from the “male” perspective.So although Grey is a spanking new novel, the spanking is not.

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On finishing the Harry Potter series J K Rowling cleverly wrote her follow up, not only with new characters, but in an entirely new genre. A Casual Vacancy was an adult novel and was generally well received by fans and critics alike. She further established her non Potter writing credentials under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith with the Cormoran Strike novels. Only now eight years later is she finally talking of a return to the Potter character for a new novel. There is always a danger that authors will go to the well once too often with a well loved character. Rowling recognised this, and has has successfully avoided the danger of being a one trick pony (albeit a hugely successful one)

As someone who hasn’t read any of the previous novels I must admit to a certain curiosity as to how it will be received. Fans will no doubt be curious but will the 70 million who have already read the book, really want to read the same story all over again? The original books although wildly popular were generally poorly reviewed critically. One critic stating that, “they had never read anything so badly written that got published”, further commenting that”it makes Twilight look like War and Peace”.  Its success then is more likely to be the unusual subject matter. Unusual for a mainstream novel that is. That and timing. The world, or the books’ readers at least, were ready for Fifty Shades of Grey. Will Grey be met with a “been there done that” indifference, or will fans slavishly lap it up? The new book certainly doesn’t have originality on its side. Novelty, maybe? Timing?, the publication of the novel three years after the last book and four months after the movie adaptation was released, seems strange. Why not closer to the movie’s release? Author E L James has take quite a risk therefore, in publishing Grey as her first novel since the Fifty Shades trilogy. Will fans feel short changed?

Maybe James is suffering from writers block? Maybe she’s smarting from the critical mauling the originals received and is looking to rewrite the story in an attempt to win the critics over? Either way its a huge risk. I’ll leave it to others to gauge the wisdom of her decision. I have no doubt the book will sell in huge numbers. The real question is where does James go next. No matter how well or how poorly received Grey really isn’t anything more than a stopgap.

Grey is available in paperback from Thursday 18th and can be bought at Roe River Book. It retails at €9.99.

The Indie Bookshop June 6, 2015

One of the pleasures of owning a Bookshop is witnessing the reaction of people when they ask you, “what do you do for a living”. The reaction is seldom indifference. When I say, “I own a Bookshop,” most people react with a “Really? That must be so cool” sort of response. Occasionally you get a perceptive “Gee, that must be tough?” Most of the time, however, the response is positive, even from people who then proceed to tell you that they love to read but just don’t have the time. You also get a fair number of people who tell you that they would love to own a bookshop, or at least, work in one and I imagine most of them mean it too.

What they don’t realise is that owning a bookshop is not so much a career choice as a vocation. Independent bookshop owners certainly aren’t in the business for the money. For anyone lucky enough to own or run a bookshop however, the rewards are immense. There is probably no better embodiment of “life work balance”. It goes without saying you need to love books and to love reading. I make a distinction here because reading, like not reading, can be a habit. While I might occasionally have slipped into the habit of not reading, I never stopped loving books, the touch the feel, the smell of them. Like most book lovers I’ve bought many more books than I’ll ever read. Owning a bookshop means I’ll never have to worry about buying too many (although my accountant might disagree).

Roe River Books is my second stint as a bookshop owner. First time round the imaginatively titled Dundalk Bookshop opened in 1987. Before that I’d worked in civil engineering and when recession bit, rather than emigrate I used my meagre savings and redundancy to open a bookshop. Unfortunately I was never able to generate enough financial momentum to get the stock level to a point where I could see a viable future. After 5 tough but enjoyable years the shop lease was up for renewal and I had a decision to make. Extend the lease and go again for another 5 years or go back to engineering which was picking up again after the recession. I sold my soul. The lure of a regular weekly wage, paid holidays and sick days was too much to resist. I closed the shop in 1992. I was relieved, but sad at the same time, and fell out of love with books for a while.

Fast forward to 2007 and I’m a self employed planning and design consultant. A client of mine has just bought a property and wants me to survey the building. The property houses Carroll’s Educational Supplies, an institution in Dundalk where generations of children have bought their school books. My client informs me that he really only wanted the building and that, most likely he’ll 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 two cups of coffee later, I’m back in the book business.

I was immediately aware of the difference. Bookselling is just a much nicer thing to spend your time doing. The Celtic Tiger years had turned civil engineering into a rat race. Aided in no small part by the advent of the mobile phone, you were never “off clock”. I was glad to be back. I knew it would never pay as well. That didn’t matter, I had a bookshop again. A school bookshop admittedly, but I could change that in time.

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It worked, to a degree. Then the recession hit and things began to stagnate. I became uncomfortably aware of the unhealthy parallel between my ownership of bookshops and recessions. Still we maintained the school trade and increased turnover in the first year. Turnover, though, levelled off and while we had some success with general books, developing this side of the business has been much slower than I would have liked.

Despite the difficulties it’s still a wonderful life. 15 years later the book trade is a significantly different place to the one I closed the door on in 1992. The net book agreement is gone, supermarkets sell books as loss leaders, the e-book has arrived and Amazon are doing their best to make sure that just about everybody buys everything, books included, from them. Video shops and record shops are all but gone. Many chain bookstores are also gone (Hughes and Hughes have opened and closed twice in Dundalk since 2003), but independent bookshops are still here.

Independent bookshops survive because they aren’t just about financial transactions. They are about books, obviously, but also about people, people who write books, people who read books and people who like being surrounded by books. They don’t just want to sell you books to make money; they want to sell you books because the books they sell are worth reading.

It looks like my second bookshop has survived a second recession. High street retail may never again be what it once was thanks to on-line retail but I’m optimistic about the future of the shop. The next phase will see it rebranded as Roe River Books to coincide with the launch of our web page next month. The Amazon River is the longest in the world and it’s on line namesake seems to want to take over the world. The Roe River once held the record as the shortest river in the world so in choosing its name, its bricks and mortar namesake may be accused of a lack of ambition. I like the idea of being the polar opposite of that on line giant. I like to feel that we’re just as important. We may not have every book in print but we might just have the one you need.

(This article first appeared on writing.ie)

Why Moscow’s decision to ban Maus is wrong April 29, 2015

Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman has branded Russian bookstores’ decision to stop selling copies of Maus, his graphic novel about the Holocaust, the “harbinger of a dangerous thing”. The Russian authorities have moved to remove Nazi insignia ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Copies of Maus have been withdrawn from Moscow’s major book shops, because it includes a swastika on its cover.

“It’s a real shame because this is a book about memory,” Spiegelman told The Guardian. “We don’t want cultures to erase memory.”

In December, the Kremlin passed a law banning “Nazi propaganda”, and since then authorities have reportedly raided toy stores and antique shops believed to be selling the paraphernalia.

Art Spiegelman and his Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus

Spiegelman told the Guardian that it was particularly ironic that an explicitly anti-fascist book should be swept up under the law. “Stalin, after getting us into helping start world war two … was probably responsible for making the Russians liberate a lot of those camps that helped my father survive. A tip of the hat for Victory Day and a middle finger for trying to squelch expression,” he said.

Varvara Gornostayeva, the chief editor at Corpus, the book’s publisher, told AFP that major bookstore chains were taking it off their shelves and internet sites.

“There is no Nazi propaganda in it. This is a book that should be on the shelves on Victory Day,” Gornostayeva argued.

Thankfully, Maus is NOT banned in Ireland, and you can buy it in the store. We will add it to the online shop shortly.