Quite possibly my favorite bookshop ever is Kennys, in Galway, Ireland. While I can’t visit there as often as I’d like — I’ve been a regular patron since the early 1990s — I still can get a semblance of the joyful experience of perusing the ink-soaked shelves via their glorious book parcel service.
The process works with blissful ease and simplicity: in cooperative discussion with longtime owner, and tome-clairvoyant Des Kenny, you give him a sense of your tastes according to subject and topic; a budget per parcel package; and a time-schedule for delivery frequency.
One doesn’t need to be exceedingly exact in specificity: in fact, I advise against it. Instead, it’s better to be somewhat vague, more gesture than point, and trust in Des’s superb judgement . . . with the expectations that surprises will come and tastes will be challenged. The proper thrill is in the discovered surprises every time you open up the delivered parcel, posted from Galway, filled with the unmistakable brown paper scents and twine of Connemara.
And if you happen not to like a book — which has happened maybe once or twice in my years of pleasurable exchanges with him — then returns are accepted.
As for me as one example, and unsurprising given my scholarly specialities, I’ve listed my interests as Irish women’s history; folklore and mythology; the Celtic Revival; Irish language literature and poetry; and harp music. I like both academic works, as well as local historians and small-press monographs; mainstream Irish fiction as well as experimental chapbooks.
What Des does with your information is to devote his time, and exceedingly keen eye, to watch for items that fall within your guidance — including recent publications as well as those rare, out of print, and often unheard of titles that pass through his doors almost daily. It’s exactly like having your own professional book scout on the constant lookout, catering to however niche your needs are! (And my niches have nooks within nooks!)
His powers of purchase and intuitive sense of his client’s needs border on the paranormal. And you never know what’s quite in store with every arrival.
Appropriately enough, and far better craic than going out for beers (of whatever neon green hue), my latest parcel arrived yesterday and I spent an evening diving in!
I’m especially thankful in how Des’s efforts keep me up to date with contemporary publications in the Irish language, as well as tracking down classic works that are very difficult to find. Every parcel is handpicked, with thoughtful sensitivity and a bit of literary mischief, and guaranteed to delight with the uncertainty of a box full of Irish books always guarantees.