Photo Essay: Bookspoils from Wales

First posted in December, 2004.

As of yesterday, I have now officially been to Wales. Possibly several times, because the border is all curvy and the road enters and exits Wales repeatedly without telling you.

We left the house at sunrise,
because it's an hour and a half drive
from Bishop's Castle to Hay-on-Wye.

You have to get going very early
to be up and away before the sheep.
(This was not important in our day,
but I wanted to include a photograph
of some of the wonderful sheep.)

I was not allowed in any of the nice bookstores
with my morning coffee, so I faffed about outside
Hay Castle, which has had a long and rather
unfortunate history of being built, then destroyed,
then built, then destroyed, rinse, wash, repeat.

It is difficult to say whether we are in a
period of destruction or of building, but
there is a bookstore in the castle.
(Where are there not bookstores?)

A photograph of the castle gate,
this is the last photograph I took
before becoming completely distracted
by the prospect of buying old books.

Mash, Miranda, Sam, and I journeyed to Hay-on-Wye, just across the Welsh border. Hay is a tiny town that is filled with an amazing number of (primarily used) bookstores. How many? I did not count, but I would estimate that the bookstore per capita ratio of Hay probably sets some sort of all-time record.

There are many, many, many bookstores, but Sam beat a swift path to Hay Cinema Books, which is a cinema-turned-giant-bookstore specializing in used, rare, and antiquarian books. They boast an inventory 200,000 strong, though I found their methods for pricing items rather unpredictable. I saw an 1857 anthology of poetry in perfect condition for £2.50, then a children's book of French vocabulary that was thin, threadbare, with pages ripped out or torn in half for which they wanted £10. In addition to the fact that every book in which I had some interest seemed to be in acceptable but not-acceptable-for-that-price condition, I had to weigh the cost of shipping the books home; in the end I decided only to buy things that were either so cheap it merited the shipping or so eclectic as to be worthy of post.

After an hour and a half of pleasant perusal, I came up with some treasures, each for a mere 50p! (Translation: 97¢ each.) These were Everybody's Book of Facts (ca. 1940), The Modern Encyclopedia (N.D., ca. 1920s), Loups, Diables et Geants (1949), and The Sexual Responsibility of Woman (1957).

We spent a few minutes in a very lovely game shop. I drooled over a lovely black leather backgammon briefcase with amber, maroon, and white glass board inside, as well as a lovely but very spendy travel SCRABBLE® board (isn't is silly that they insist on always writing that stupid game name in all capital letters?). On the whole, however, there was nothing in the shop that I couldn't also purchase in the States, and there was little point in burdening myself with more cargo.

We left the game shop and walked to the aforementioned Castle Book Store, where we were to meet Sam's parents. We spent a few minutes browsing in there while waiting for them to turn up. Sam wept not so silently over a book on book illustration that we probably should have purchased because I'm having trouble locating it now. It was a fairly recent publication, and thus we thought it might be easy to find elsewhere, possibly in paperback at a reduced price. Sometimes it is perhaps better to give in to the book avarice, particularly since it was a lovely hardback in good condition and worth the £15.

We then had lunch with Sam's parents at The Granary, a nice enough little place, though it seems that I was the only one much enamored with my meal. I had a lovely chicken and mushroom pie with salad, cooked carrots, and mange tout. Very nummy.

We had but forty-five minutes post lunch, and spent most of it in a second bookshop, where I went insane and spent big: £5! I purchased five more books, including The Necklace and four other short stories by Guy de Maupassant, another mini book containing the first two chapters of Human Origins by Richard Leakey, and then three paperbacks of varying age that were fairly inexpensive and should be light enough to merit shipping/carrying home: Les Séquestrés d'Altona by Jean-Paul Sartre (his prose is sometimes difficult but his plays are easily digestible), Le Compte de Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (a book that claims it was originally 5 francs... I've been meaning to read a copy I purchased last year in English, but I love comparing originals to translations, so it's better to have both), and Les Lettres Philosophiques de Voltaire (because it was only £1 and my philosopherman says it's probably well worth it; I've never actually read any Voltaire first hand, I don't think).

All in all, a lovely day. Upon returning home, Sam and I had the place to ourselves for the evening, and celebrated that opportunity with take-out curry and proper dark beer while poring over our new books.

Today's plan includes a walk, perhaps decorating a tree, and to share some book excerpts with you:

[ The Sexual Responsibility of Woman ]

[ Everybody's Book of Facts ]