In a world defined by phrases such as big data, screen time, or engagement sits a digital-free oasis on Gorey’s Main Street where books from the 1600s sit alongside the Harry Potter series. Where content refers to the words in a book, and engagement measures your genuine enjoyment in browsing bookshelves for pleasure.
Zozimus Bookshop shares its premises with the aptly named Book Café and Bistro and boasts over 30,000 titles, all known and chosen by owner John Wyse Jackson. Even more intriguing, the bookshop mostly stocks just one of each title – if a title proves a seller, John will seek one out to replace it.
“There aren’t a lot of genuine second-hand bookshops left, even in Dublin,” says John, who opened the shop in 2011. With antiquarian books valued in the thousands to French language books to mainstream novels priced at €3, it’s no surprise that people travel from afar to chase down particular titles.
“I fondly believe that I know if a book is good or not,” says the Bookseller of Gorey, who has been selling books since he was in his 20s. “The most important thing about a book is the words in it and if it captures the imagination. You can always tell a reader from their knowledge and vocabulary!”
And that is evident even in children, who return again and again to their bespoke bookshelves in this treasure trove of words and imagination. “If children read until they’re 12 and, even if they take a break during their teenage years, they will come back to reading as an adult. I love children who are excited about reading, who come back again and again to read the next in the series. That why the books are at pocket money prices.”
Books are also physical things, and not gone in an instant like a social media post. “If you find an interesting fact on social media, it’s harder to retain. With a book, you can place the fact on a page in a specific book. There is a memory to the physical book and the colour, size and place where you read the book all make a connection to the material you read.”
Books are also doors into other worlds and cultures. One interesting collection in stock is a bound collection of Our Boys from 1929. “Books like that are like magic carpets, bringing you back to that time – it’s like time travel, you are in someone’s head in a way that you’re not in the movies. I find that fascinating.”
John’s own story is fascinating – he’s an accomplished writer – indeed, his first book was a Famous Five novel at the age of eight! Today, he has written, edited, and published about a dozen more. He learned the bookseller trade in London, where he was part owner of a bookshop selling new books.
“I’m very pleased now to be selling second-hand books, it’s a different business, less corporate. With new books, you’re at the mercy of the publishing conglomerates. The great thing about second-hand books is that there’s a much wider scope of interest and oddities. It’s more driven by what the customer wants. If I have a customer interested in the Crusades, I’ll buy books on the Crusades. Finding a customer for an unusual second-hand book is like finishing a jigsaw – it’s very satisfying!”
Today, the bookshop is a much loved in Gorey – with due credit also going to John’s business partner, Althea Farren. Not surprisingly, Althea is also a writer, with Zozimus having published ‘Learning to Love Ireland: An Immigrant’s Tale’, an exploration of her journey from Zimbabwe to Ireland.
“We’re also planning to republish Notes on the History of Gorey. The first edition came out in 1980, written by Ronnie McCormack, so we’re going to add information to it and republish. It will be ideal for people looking for information on Gorey.”
And, indeed, if you don’t find information on Gorey – or anything for that matter – amongst the 30,000 titles in Zozimus Bookshop, John will happily search it out for you! Any queries, just give him a buzz on 086 123 3137 or email [email protected]
Interview & photos: Deirdre O’Flynn