The Exchange

Ode to a Bookshop and a Very Special Bookseller

I was saddened to hear last week that one of my favourite bookshops in the whole world, The Exchange Bookshop in Dalkey, South County Dublin has just closed. The lovely owner, Michael has decided to retire and it’s uncertain as to what will happen to the shop. Will it become yet another coffee shop or restaurant; will another enterprising (and brave) bookseller take it over? We will have to wait and see. In the meantime I wanted to celebrate the shop and what it meant to me as a child and as a teenager growing up in Dalkey. When I was younger Dalkey village had a small children’s library that was housed in the Town Hall. Once a week special green wooden shelves would be rolled out and we’d be taken there to pick our books. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a range and, as I became a more confident reader, I craved more choice. So Mum took me to The Exchange Bookshop and we looked through the second hand books together, searching for novels that would be suitable for a young teenager.

Gradually Mum allowed me to rummage on my own, and I managed to unearth some gems that she might not have ‘approved’ of had she know the contents, Flowers in the Attic example which I devoured, staying up all night to finish it, racing through each page like a teenager possessed. Michael in the shop did sometimes question the ‘suitability’ of the books I picked, but to his credit never stopped me buying them.

James Herbert, Stephen King, The Outsiders by S E Hinton, books about possession, haunting, vampires – this was my staple reading diet as a teenager (YA or teen fiction was only in its infancy in those days and many of the books were far too ‘worthy’ for my strangely blood-thirsty teen taste). They were interspersed by Maeve Binchy, American teen novels (Sweet Valley High), Judy Blume and the classics, but only ones concerning love and relationships, especially doomed relationships, most notably Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Jane Austen. Darkness and light, black and pink.

From the age of about eleven I read passionately and voraciously and The Exchange provided much of my story fuel. Unusually it sold both new and second hand books and had a special ‘exchange’ system (hence the name) whereby you could bring back books you’d read and ‘swap’ them for other books. And yes, I admit I ‘exchanged’ many of my mum and dads’ books for Stephen King novels.

Without The Exchange I would not have read so many books as a teenager, it’s as simple as that. And those books – both black and pink - made me the writer that I am today. So I owe a lot to Michael and his wonderful bookshop, as do many other readers (and writers) I suspect. And I wish him all the very best in the future. Maybe now he’ll have time to read himself for a change!

Today, on Shakespeare’s birthday and leading up to World Book Night later, I give thanks for Michael and all the other amazingly hard working and booking loving folk who power the bookshops of Ireland. Booksellers, I salute you! I’m proud to be an ex-member (and hopefully a future member in years to come) of your fold.

Yours in books,

Sarah XXX