The Joy of Books (1)

There’s something about book anticipation that gets to this particular bibliophile. When I was a kid I remember being intrigued by the packaging of Fry’s Five Boys chocolate bar with its fivefold image of one lad in various stages: Desperation, Pacification, Expectation, Acclamation and Realization. Maybe I won’t quite go through all five stages before acquiring the desired object — in my case, the book rather than a bar of chocolate — but that stage of expectation is one that I especially relish. Even the image of books (as in a watercolour of vintage paperbacks hanging on our wall) is enough to have me salivating.

Music Ho! watercolour by Clive Graham

Simply being in a place where books are guaranteed to be plentiful has my anticipation quotient at fever pitch level. Hay-on-Wye, on the border between Wales and England, is the setting for a word-renowned Book Festival and is officially the National Book Town of Wales. Before eyes even alight on a bookshop what pulse doesn’t race, what pace doesn’t quicken?

Hay-on-Wye clock tower

And then there are the signs for bookshops. As Neil Gaiman wrote in American Gods “a town isn’t a town without a bookstore”: when I visit a new town my senses are attuned to the least indication of a bookish emporium. It can be a simple swinging sign, as with Andrew Morton Books in Brecon, or Book·ish in Crickhowell.

Let’s not forget kerbside appeal: how the frontage of a bookshop can make all the difference between just wanting to go in and a wild-horses-couldn’t-stop-me imperative. Who can resist these secondhand bookshops in Ross-on-Wye and Brecon?

Ross-on-Wye bookshop
Andrew Morton Books, Brecon

And all this even before stepping inside the hallowed sanctum! Let’s delay, for just a little, before we open the door and cause the little bell to jingle …


More Joy of Books to come …

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24 thoughts on “The Joy of Books (1)

  1. Pingback: Joy of Books – Calmgrove – Earth Balm Music

  2. If you’re ever in Eastbourne, do visit Camilla’s. I found first editions St Trinians abd Down With Skool there, but even if I hadn’t, loved the feel and look of the place, not least the giant dog who was one of the staff.

    Loved Hay-on-Wye when I visited. Just being in the village, surrounded by bookstores made me happy.

    1. Sussex is my birthplace, but I haven’t been back there since I was six months old! I’ve been promising myself a visit for some time, not only for its natural beauties (the South Downs, the coast) but also for its literary associations; now I’ll have to add Eastbourne to my list — thanks for that, Daphne!

      Hay is certainly a booklover’s paradise. One of these years we may get round to volunteer stewarding at the Festival; we have relatives who go every other year, whom we’ll see after they attend the next one in a couple of weeks. Most envious …

    1. I can hear the music in my head right now — definitely very apposite here!

      I confess this mini-series of posts is not just in praise of bookstores, Annabel; I had a number of photos and Instagram pics of bookshops in a file just aching to have another outing, a reminder of the sensual delights of such places. I hope others will enjoy them for the same reasons. 🙂

  3. MrsB_inthehills

    You’re so right about the thrill of a bookshop – all of that magic waiting to be discovered. Entering a bookshop gives me a feeling not unlike purchasing new stationery at the beginning of the autumn term…the posssibilities are limitless

    1. That sense if endless possibilities is exactly it, Helen! I often picture the front covers of books as doors opening into new rooms with new people or new landscapes to explore; it’s potentially mindblowing!

      New stationery — now I’m glad I haven’t developed my enjoyment of this to the same extent as books; I’d be like a child in a sweetshop I suspect if I succumbed! At least most bookshops have diversified into offering some choice, even if inevitably limited.

    1. I think the few that are left may be consolidating, but as the majority of them (maybe all?) are independent there’s a risk that when the owners retire that’d the end of that outlet. Still, charity shops — and in particular charity bookshops (like Oxfam, Amnesty and the British Red Cross) in the bigger towns and cities — apparently continue to thrive, though you’re less likely to pick up bargains in the specialist charity bookshops.

  4. These shops are a dying breed, locally. They have been supplanted by the South African equivalents of Waterstones and W H Smith, being CNA and Exclusive Books. These carry increasingly limited numbers of titles, limited mainly to the best-sellers of the moment. Overruns etc are offered by Bargain Books.

    The small, intimate bookstores have mainly turned up their toes. Where I find one, I am like a kid in a sweet shop. Lately, though, I have to curb a spending frenzy with the recollection of the number of books on my shelves still untouched.

    1. Your first dilemma — lack of choice in chain bookstores, and the demise of many indies — is echoed in much of the world. Your second is one that’s echoed by me!

    1. It’s a delightful place with loads of outlets — many specialist — though I gather some have diversified in recent years into antiques and the like, away from a focus on books. Most are within a comfortable walking distance, though a couple require some determined walking; for example, a specialist in children’s literature was off the town map, and I didn’t get round to finding it on my last visit.

      Hay-on-Wye was the first modern Book Town (in the early 60s) but as you probably know they’re a worldwide phenomenon now, as is testified by the International Organisation of Book Towns (http://www.booktown.net/index.html). Hobart, NY seems to be your nearest one in the States, but there are a few others in Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and maybe California (according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_town).

      As for your esteemed leader, I keep asking myself if, should he be impeached, Mike Pence would be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire? In the meantime, our own treasured PM is busy marketing herself in presidential style, emphasising personal qualities over party and policies. It’s all so blatant, yet so many appear to be taken in by it.

      1. I did not know there were book towns in the States (glad to know we do have some redeeming features). If we do a cross-country road trip — another longtime ambition — I’ll have to check out that map.

        Agree with you re: frying pan, and yet perhaps we have to go through the fire as well. No one knows where this is all going to lead, so we all have to follow our consciences as best we can.

  5. =Tamar

    Treasure your independent second-hand book shops. Here in the USA, when I search the net lately, even on abebooks most of them turn out to have been swallowed by a conglomerate (Th*r*ftb**ks) and are now merely warehouses that dropship. I want a shop where I can look at the actual edition and cover, not a “standard cover shot” and an information-free description.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, =Tamar — if there’s something many people treasure, then there are the people looking to profit mightily from it, thus demeaning the thing.

      Btw, I’ve pretty much formatted your guest post and hope to schedule it in the next fortnight or so — in case you thought I’d forgotten you!

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