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[99] Sixpence House – Paul Collins

sixpence.jpgArmchair Traveler Reading Challenge #4

Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books documents a San Franciscan booklover who packed all the belongings and moved to Hay-on-Wye, the ultimate Town of Books in the British Wales with only 1500 inhabitants but 40 bookstores. To call them bookstores is actually an understatement since mounds of books are everywhere. But the heaven of books does not necessarily make book hunting easier because Hay does not adopt an electronic catalog. Looking for a specific book, Collins remarks, can be tedious and hopeless that one often finds heaps of books looking back at him.

Woven into the search for a home in Hay-on-Wye, where everyone is at least a generation older are Collins’ stories–memoirs of childhood, anecdotes and bookish obsessions. These incisions can overshadow coverage of the daily happenings of the quaint town that operates on a 6-hour economy days on end. As I read on, I realize Collins is more of an antique book collector than a bibliophile, strictly speaking. He often goes off the tangent in his writing, getting carried away in some obscure subjects that have nothing to do with Hay-on-Wye.

Minus all the random musings and frustrated digressions are temperamental passages that are so close to my heart as a reader. For example, in the opening remarks of the book he mourns the decadence of book trade due to drastic decline of readership. A recent news article bears the shocking fact that half of American household did not purchase a single book last year. But it is what Collins refers to as core literary population that really nails the alarming trend. Core literary population consists of people who could be relied on to buy books with a serious content (sorry no Da Vinci Code or Scott Patterson) on a consistent basis. Readers in this group (meaning pretty much all the book bloggers) are what thousands of books released each year have to compete for. Sadly this ratio has gone up steadily since 1920s (500 to 1) and advance of media has only made it worse.

* * *

A few of you mentioned novels with long narrative and embellished prose no longer attract readers. I find it true as I go through the list of the authors and their works featured in the Outmoded Author Challeng. These authors are the literary craftsmen who orchestrate some of the most sophisticated prose. But because their works are packed with long-winded prose with challenging vocabulary, they are kicked out of the “in” crowd. This may be the reason why we have more and bigger bookstores but less readers of serious literature, for reading has turned into some fast-food culture. Books are not physically destroyed, but exist in a living death, doomed to never be opened, read, re-read, and re-issued.

9 Responses

  1. I like your last remarks and agree with them.

    The books sounds so interesting. I might get it.

    I didn’t go to Hay on my vacation because I didn’t want to get overwhelmed, so I went to Wigtown in Scotland. A lot smaller but very nice.

  2. You’re doing well with this challenge. I read two and a quarter books and have stalled. I’m so easily distracted by the piles of books in my apartment!

  3. Sounds like an interesting book for book lovers! I’ve always wanted to visit Hay, but reading about it will have to do for the moment. And I agree that reading has changed within our fast-food culture–a very sad thing.

  4. I must go to Haye on Wye next year – It’s been in the back of my mind to do for such a long time now and I always end up going somewhere else. Why’s that??

  5. I attempted to read this book 3 times and not once, could I get past ten pages.

  6. giovanni’s room is still one of my favorites…one of – if not the – best gay love stories ever written.

  7. Is everyone there working in the book trade? This sounds quite interesting.

  8. Isabel:
    Scotland is one of the places on my list. But now that I have read Sixpence, I’ll make a detour to Hay when I head to London. 🙂

    Actually the books that interest me the most at the moment are those I gather for the challenges! I love the outmoded authors! 🙂

    gentle reader:
    I feel that people are just too busy (too busy doing nothing actually, like talking on cell phone) to pay attention to words and language, the basic elements of human communication. Thus you see more books written in dialogue, instead of the long narrative.

    Oh since you’re in the same continent you must go visit Hay…and I’m sure you will before I can have the chance. 🙂

  9. Greg:
    Really? But I don’t blame you because his writing can be so scattered that he just goes off the tangent. 🙂

    Welcome! Have you read Maurice by E.M. Forster, and books by Alan Hollingurst? Those are my favorites as well. 🙂

    Pretty much so. And there are taverns! 🙂

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