When Peter discovers the watercolor of the woman that resembles his dead wife, he is standing in a bookshop in the small town of Hay-on-Wye, Wales, in the United Kingdom. This town, known as the town of books, has a population of 1,500 but boasts nearly 30 bookstores. Hay-on-Wye is about three to four hours' driving distance from London.
Hay-on-Wye evolved into its current status beginning in the 1960s when a bookseller, Robert Booth, decided to start collecting used books from around the English speaking world and bringing them home. Since then the small Welsh-border town has become a mecca of sorts for book lovers. The stores specialize in second-hand books with some bookstores selling antiquarian books, some specializing in maps, and others peddling popular paperbacks. In the late 70s Booth decided that the town would become its own "kingdom" with "home rule" and declared himself as king.
Booth's particular brand of zaniness lives on. In a town overflowing with books, it's no surprise that some would be asking for the banning of e-readers within the town's confines. Derek Addyman, a proprietor of three bookstores, and a lifetime resident of Haye-on-Wye, leads the campaign saying, "Kindles [and the like] are bad for booksellers like cigarettes are bad for health." To people bold enough to bring e-readers into the town, Addyman warns that they are "training poodle sniffer dogs to find them."
The bookstores and the vibrant booksellers, themselves like characters drawn from literature, attract thousands of tourists to the annual spring book festival which began in 1988; President Bill Clinton, who attended the festival in 2001, called it the "Woodstock of the mind." It brings together writers, scientists, filmmakers, and comedians to a "bohemian version of the World Economic Forum's Davos event in Switzerland." On offer, instead of alpine views and hot chocolate though, are sheep and Wellington boots. Peter Florence, the festival's founder says, "it's like the best bits of university with great live music and double beds."
Picture by Stephen Nunney
This article was originally published in July 2013, and has been updated for the
May 2014 paperback release.
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