Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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****Sixpence House

Lost in a Town of Books

by Paul Collins

Reviewed October 26, 2004.
Bloomsbury, New York, 2003.  246 pages.
Available at Sembach Library.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #5, Personal Stories and Reflections

There’s no question about it.  The book Sixpence House has made me want to go spend at least a week in Hay-on-Wye, a town in Wales.

“Hay-on-Wye, you see, is The Town of Books.  This is because it has fifteen hundred inhabitants, five churches, four grocers, two newsagents, one post office . . . and forty bookstores.  Antiquarian bookstores, no less.  And they are in antiquarian buildings:  there are scarcely any buildings in Hay proper that are under a hundred years old; not many, even, that are under two hundred years old.  There are easily several million books secreted away in these stores and in outlying barns around the town; thousands of books for every man, woman, child, and sheepdog.”

Paul Collins and his wife and small son set out to move to Hay-on-Wye as he was finishing writing his first book.  The story of that adventure makes for enchanting reading for any lover of books.  Paul Collins has a fascination with old books that no one reads any more, so his prose is peppered with surprisingly delightful tidbits from authors long-dead and, one would have thought, long-unread.

He gets a job in Hay, as an expert in American literature, supposedly organizing the American books for the bookstores of the “King of Hay.”  Meanwhile, the Collinses have trouble finding a home and learn that the whole process is very different in Britain than in America.

The complete book is a delightful meditation on reading, writing, and the sheer solid long-lasting nature of books.  Book-lovers, writers, and anyone who’s ever dreamed of moving to a small town in Britain, will all enjoy this book.  And the chapter titles are as charming as A. A. Milne’s.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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