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Personal Shopping for the Perfect Book

Writing.ie | Magazine | The Big Idea

By Mary Burnham

‘Why on earth would anyone need a Personal Shopper?’ asked a good friend and fellow book addict, ‘After all, having read the reviews in the weekend papers I know exactly what to buy when I visit a book shop!’

While that is certainly the case for many of our customers, there are others irresistibly drawn into the bookshop (as if  drawn in by a huge magnet) that they can enjoy the experience of being surrounded by wall to wall books and, although they may be good readers, they can feel overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of  new stock. Before I joined Dubray, that was me. Growing up, I was never without a book and was an indiscriminate and voracious reader. I read through all my mother’s books, borrowed heavily from the local library, bought heaps of books at the school Christmas Fair, received wonderful literary birthday gifts, and was topped up once a year by Santa and Mrs Clause who were very generous indeed. But I invariably found that every time I walked into a book shop my senses were overwhelmed by the headlines saying,  ‘BUY ME!’ and ‘BESTSELLER’ with ‘PRIZE WINNER’ and other come hither exclamations – all in competition with ‘HALF PRICE’ and ‘THREE FOR TWO’ bargains. I didn’t stand a chance and bought many a dud while missing some absolute gems and that is why I am now a Personal Shopper with Dubray because I know how exactly how that customer feels.

So, what are the credentials needed to be a Personal Shopper with Dubray?

  • To be able to wade through the masses of wonderful tomes to find something suitable for your particular literary journey
  • To be familiar with all the new stock and wide variety of possibilities on offer
  • Know all the latest prize winners and some of the excellent shortlisted books
  • Keep up with the books everyone is talking about
  • Take rave reviews with a pinch of salt and decide first hand if they are worth the hype.
  • Recognise that not everyone has the same taste
  • Recommend titles you can stand over – books you have either read yourself or books that have been carefully selected by other member of staff

The Personal Shopper Experience

We have an hour to sit and talk about reading, during which I will gauge your likes and dislikes and see if we can push out the boundaries a little by introducing you to something old, something new and hopefully, something totally different.  Maybe you’ve always read one particular type of book but hadn’t realised there are many different sections from which to choose. I’ll be looking out for non-fiction, biographies, current affairs, history and fiction in translation that will bring you to other lands where life is quite unlike anything as we know it here in Ireland. Once we’ve set some boundaries, we will take a tour of the shop, picking up possible choices along the way, and finally sit while we whittle the pile down to those titles you’re going to take home to enjoy at your leisure.

While there are different genres to suit all tastes, there is also the matter of mood to consider.  We have to find something wonderful to suit you best from the superb reading material only a bookshelf away:

  • A long novel to sink your teeth into or a short novella to ease you back into reading
  • Nothing contentious, just a good story written with maximum pleasure in mind
  • A thriller, perhaps, or a crime novel full of ghastly mayhem and murder to take your mind off all your troubles
  • Or a masterpiece, exquisitely written, that will find its way deep inside your soul
  • How about choosing from the many prize winners that everyone is talking about?
  • Something deep and multi-layered that you will want to re-read almost as soon as you are finished

my-name-is-asher-levWhen asked I find it almost impossible to decide on my favourite books of all time as new titles appear almost daily, brim full of fresh ideas and lively characters. But there are a few that I have enjoyed enormously for a variety of reasons, books I recommended over and over again, garnering positive feedback from customers and friends.  I’ve listed just three here to whet your appetite:

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok was written in 1972 but it’s a book that will never lose its fascination as it deals with relationships, families, religion, truth and art. Potok was a Jewish rabbi who wrote many books but this is perhaps his finest and could, quite possibly, be one of my favourite books.

A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel is set in Norfolk where Ralph and Anna live in the big Red House. They have quite a humdrum existence but soon reveal their memories of South Africa where they were witness to tragedies that are almost impossible to forget. The power of this novel quite took my breath away as once again Hilary Mantel demonstrates her wondrous abilities with the written word.lonesome-dove

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry is a big novel that I did not intend to read at all. After all, how would I find the time and I definitely wasn’t interested in two retired rangers who decide – almost on a whim – to drive a herd of cattle from Texas up to the green pastures of Montana! But there are many excellent reasons why this spectacular novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1986.  It is full of fabulous characters that you care about; the journey is exciting and sometimes dangerous but you enjoy every step of the way; the writing is such that you live inside this story for however long it takes you to read; and you will never forget it, no matter how hard you try. Convinced? I hope so.

(c) Mary Burnham

Mary Burnham is a bookseller with Dubray. To say that she loves books is something of an understatement. She is a reading phenomenon and an enthusiastic advocate for the books she enjoys.

She is a regular contributor on Newstalk, East Coast Radio and on RTE with Marian Finucane.

About the author

Mary Burnham is a bookseller with Dubray. To say that she loves books is something of an understatement. She is a reading phenomenon and an enthusiastic advocate for the books she enjoys.

She is a regular contributor on Newstalk, East Coast Radio and on RTE with Marian Finucane.

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