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Sixpence House by Paul Collins
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Sixpence House (2004)

by Paul Collins

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1445110,726 (3.65)125
  1. 20
    On Reading by André Kertész (Fliss88)
  2. 20
    84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (Limelite)
    Limelite: Similar evocative memoir that revolves around a bookstore and books. But at a distance.
  3. 10
    The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: A meditation on books, reading, library-design, modes of cataloging, etc.
  4. 10
    Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry (Bjace)
    Bjace: McMurtry's life as a bibliophile. Tries to create a "town of books" in Texas comparable to Hay.
  5. 00
    Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer (Fliss88)
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» See also 125 mentions

English (50)  Italian (1)  All languages (51)
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Wales's little town of Hay-on-Wye, or just "Hay," is known as the "Town of Books." With 1,500 residences and forty bookstores, what better place for a writer to move from Manhattan? Collins writes about his time in the village as a writer, as a house hunter, and as a new father in a whimsical manner; lacing the prose with mini lectures on long-dead writers, dust jackets not doing their one job, and what it means when an author's color photograph occupies the entire cover of a book. Collins has a sense of humor that is self-deprecating (just try not to giggle when he shares the story of inadvertently peeing on his manuscript of Banvard's Folly). You find yourself wanting to have a cup of coffee with him just to hear more. My only complaint? No photographs.
Confessional: I love a book that makes mention of Wallace and Gromit! ( )
  SeriousGrace | Apr 15, 2019 |
3 1/2 stars: Good

From the back cover: Paul Collins and his family abandoned the hills of San Francisco to move to the Welsh countryside-- to move in fact, to the little cobblestone village of Hay-on-Wye, the "Town of Books" boasting 1500 inhabitants, and 40 bookstores. Antiquarian bookstores, no less.

Hay's newest residents accordingly take up residence in a 16th century apartment over a bookstore, meeting the village's large population of misfits and bibliomaniacs by working for world class eccentric Richard Booth--the self declared King of Hay, owner of the local castle, and proprieter of the world's largest and most chaotic used book warren. A useless clerk, Paul delights in shifting dusty stacks of books around and sifting them for ancient gems. Meanwhile as he struggles with the final touches on his own first book, 'Banvard's Folly', he also duly fulfills his duty as a British citizen by simultaneously applying to be a peer in the House of Lords and attempting to buy Sixpence House , a beautiful and neglected old tumbledown pub for sale in the town's center. Inviting readers into a sanctuary for book lovers... Sixpence House is a wonderfully engaging meditation on what books mean to us, and how their meaning can resonate long after they have been abandoned by their public. For Paul Collins, there is a curious comfort to be found in his own book's future, rubbing bindings with the rest of the books that time forgot.

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I found this book to be a solid "good"-- once I got past what the book is and what it is not. It is a book of observations regarding Britain, British history, Hay -on Wye , books, and book publishing. It is not a story of Hay-on-Wye and working in a bookstore, per se. It was a quick and easy read, probably 10 hours total. It was fun and I laughed regularly. Collins has a quick wit and I appreciated his outlook on life and ancient Britain.

Having said that, it's a fluffy read. There is a place for those of course, and this book fit me at the right time. However, it's not a reread or something that I found compelling enough to go back to. And that's ok. I'm glad I took the time for this volume.

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Some quotes or parts that interested me:

"When you search for books online, you generally already know what you're looking for. To look for a specific book in Hay is a hopeless task; you can only find the books that are looking for you, the ones you didn't know to ask for in the first place. You come to Hay so that you can pick up a magazine you've never even heard of and read about Leibnitz's talking hound."

"While there is class resentment in America, the poor do not take it to a personal level: they vent at the mayor, at the police, at local businesses, at other poor people, at everyone but the rich themselves--because they want to be rich, too, and would do the same. If you have a million and win another million, Americans will not spit at you. They will say, 'Wow, you have two million.'"

[Discussing book covers] "Woe and alas to any who transgresses these laws. A number of reviewers railed against 'The Bridges of Madison County' because it used the diminutive hardcover size and muted color scheme of, say, an Annie Dillard book--thus cruelly tricking readers of Serious Literature into *buying crap*. Not to be outdone, the Harvard University Press issued Walter Benjamin's opus 'The Arcades Project' with gigantic raised metallic lettering. One can only imagine the disgust of blowhard fiftysomethings in bomber jackets as they slowly realised that the project they were reading about was a cultural analysis of 19th century Parisian bourgeoisie--and not, say, a tale involving renegade Russian scientists and a mad general aboard a nuclear submarine."

"Finally, on Serious Books and crap alike there will be a head shot of The Author sitting still while looking pensive or smiling faintly into the indeterminate distance--the one pose that has no existence in the author's actual daily life. The size of this photo will be in inverse proportion to the quality of the book. If this photo is rendered in color, it is not a Serious Book. If there is no author photo at all, then it is a SErious Book indeed--perhaps even a textbook."

"Welsh is a form of cipher, like German Enigma machines--none of the letters is pronounced the same as the letter would indicate to an English speaker, but is instead moved one over--thus an L pronounced K, and F is an E and an A is...whatever letter comes before A. Some sort of choking sound."

".... 'arnica pills. The arnica is homepathic.' For my readers outside of California and Vermont, or who do not subscribe to the 'Utne Reader', allow me to explain: homeopathic means that its active ingredient is absolutely not a goddamned thing."

"Americans do not know nostalgia for their country in the ways that Britons do, for they have not yet lots more than they've gained. ... Someday, when the United States is a has-been, then we too shall know that indescribable British feeling, except then it will be known as that indescribable American feeling. It is the sensation of being a fat bag of sand with a little hole in the bottom, slowly draining out. It has become impossible to live over here without being reminded of a past that is palpably gone; it creeps over you in the most ludicrously inconspicuous places." ( )
  PokPok | Jan 1, 2018 |
THIS is a charming book filled with poignant life observations. I realize that there are a lot of charming books filled with poignant life observations, but don't let that be an obstacle to reading this one. If you love books and those who write them, and if you are intrigued by intriguing places put this book at the top of your reading list. ( )
  BenjaminG.Brubaker | Oct 11, 2017 |
Amusing travelog, especially for bibliophiles. A quick read. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
This is the story of Paul Collins and his family who move from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye (or just Hay), the "Town of Books". I can understand why he would want to move there as they are a Town Of Books. If you don't understand the appeal of that please stop reading both this review and do not start the book.

The charm of this is book is the references to so many books we probably wouldn't have heard about if not for Paul's love for used, antiquarian books. And his interactions with the people of Hay, his obvious love of things British, even though I think he's more American then he wants to be. He and his wife think they love old houses as well - until they realize both what it costs to purchase a crumbling pile but more importantly what it would cost to repair said pile.

I enjoyed this book up to the end as they are moving back to America - it's almost as if he's so proud of bashing all things American and so proud of realizing that his parents had it wrong by moving to States that when he and his wife decide to move back Stateside that the end of the book he's covering his mouth and mumbling, "and we went back".

If only he just ended the book with the knowledge that he and the family decide not to live in Hay I think the book would have ended better and I would have been left with the feeling, as I did from the beginning that this was a lovely book about bookstores and someone who loves books. ( )
  mmoj | Mar 3, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Entertaining memoir....A treat for the bibliophile.
added by jburlinson | editKirkus (Mar 1, 2003)
 
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I have never noticed the view from the Flatiron Building before.
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Book description
Hay-on-Wye, a Welsh town of 1,500, is heaven on earth for people who love books, especially old books. It has 40 bookstores, and if you can't find what you want in one of them, you can fork over 50 pence and visit the field behind the town castle, where thousands more long-forgotten books languish under a sprawling tarp. McSweeney's contributor Collins moved his wife and baby son from San Francisco to Hay a few years ago, intending to settle there. This book is Collins's account of the brief period when he organized American literature in one of the many used-book stores, contemplated and abandoned the idea of becoming a peer in the House of Lords, tried to buy an affordable house that wasn't falling apart (a problem when most of the buildings are at least a century old) and revised his first book (Banvard's Folly). Collins can be quite funny, and he pads his sophomore effort with obscure but amusing trivia (how many book lovers know that the same substance used to thicken fast-food milk shakes is an essential ingredient in paper resizing?), but it's hard to imagine anyone beyond bibliophiles and fellow Hay-lovers finding enough here to hold their attention. Witty and droll though he may be, Collins fails to give his slice-of-life story the magic it needs to transcend the genre.
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"Paul Collins and his family abandoned the hills of San Francisco to move to the Welsh countryside - to move, in fact, to the little cobblestone village of Hay-on-Wye, the "Town of Books, " boasting 1,500 inhabitants...and forty bookstores. Antiquarian bookstores, no less." "Hay's newest residents accordingly take up residence in a sixteenth-century apartment over a bookstore, meeting the village's large population of misfits and bibliomaniacs by working for world class eccentric Richard Booth - the self-declared King of Hay, owner of the local castle, and proprietor of the world's largest and most chaotic used book warren. A useless clerk, Paul delights in shifting dusty stacks of books around and sifting them for ancient gems like Robinson Crusoe in Words of One Syllable, Confession of an Author's Wife, and I Was Hitler's Maid. Meanwhile, as he struggles with the final touches on his own first book, Banvard's Folly, nearing publication in the United States, he also duly fulfills his duty as a British citizen by simultaneously applying to be a peer in the House of Lords and attempting to buy Sixpence House, a beautiful and neglected old tumbledown pub for sale in the town's center." "Sixpence House is an engaging meditation on what books mean to us, and how their meaning can resonate long after they have been abandoned by their public."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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