Twice Told Tales & A Photo from
Lynne S., Richmond, VA
the English border in
Mid-Wales, is the worlds greatest
place to find used books. The twenty-plus bookshops of Hay are the legacy of the eccentric
Richard Booth. Booths successful shop brought a renaissance of attention to the once
obscure town and the little-visited region so much so that Mr. Booth wished Hay to
secede from the United Kingdom and put him on the throne as King Richard.
Hays fame has, to the disappointment of
King Richard, led to its civilizing. Each May, the annual
Festival of Literature draws more than 80,000 to Hay-on-Wye to hear poets recite,
novelists discuss, and pundits pursue profundity. Meanwhile, around Hay a healthy outdoors
recreation industry has sprung up, taking advantage of the towns central location by
the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons National Park, and along the River Wye and
other Wild Welsh white waters.
If all this, plus its close proximity to
Englands Shakespeare country and the Cotswolds, have made Hay-on-Wye both popular
and respectable, we happily report that not all of Hays eccentricities have been
gilded by success. There are still several lively pubs in town, some more likely to be
boisterous than subdued on an evening. Fishermen and long-distance walkers still come to
Hay as they have for centuries. The towns ruined castle and its narrow, one-way,
cobbled streets havent been changed by the sometime throngs who must park outside of
Hay and come into town on foot.
Best of all, the bookshops themselves, though
they have multiplied in number, still look like what they sell used books.
Theres always a pervasive, faint, musty smell. The shelves, the counter, and even
the shopkeepers, have a distinct worn appearance, yet remain practical, useful, and
without any detectable decoration or frill. In Hay at least, the used book business lacks
the bistros like Borders and the bustle and ballyhoo of Barnes and Noble. Mores the