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Sixpence House by Paul Collins

Sixpence House (original 2004; edition 2003)

by Paul Collins

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1,074487,778 (3.64)116
Title:Sixpence House
Authors:Paul Collins
Info:Bloomsbury (2003), Edition: 2nd prt., Hardcover, 224 pages
Tags:21st century, american, borrowed, LW3r, returned, memoir

Work details

Sixpence House by Paul Collins (2004)

  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 116 mentions

English (47)  Italian (1)  All (48)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
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 |
Sixpence House is ostensibly Collins’ story of attempting to move his family from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye, a small Welsh village with 1,500 inhabitants and 40 bookstores. Hay-on-Wye is an interesting place, and in the right hands, that story could be enough. Luckily for us, Paul Collins is an inveterate reader and collector of obscure tidbits. The story of the move and his time in Wales thus becomes a framework from which to hang some of the most fascinating asides it has ever been my pleasure to run across.

This sounds somewhat disjointed, and in lesser hands it could easily be so. But Collins has a knack for making these asides tie in to the story he’s telling at the time, even if the connection is tenuous at best. Plus, the asides are so much fun, you forgive the author for reaching just a bit here and there

The framework of the book details Collins and his family’s attempt to buy a house in Hay-on-Wye, and if you’ve ever harbored a dream of owning a 200-year-old stone cottage in a sleepy British village, you should pay special attention. Collins describes the process in hilarious detail, from the ins and outs of British real estate laws to all of the problems inherent in dealing with a moldering stone building in its dotage. The family looks at so many houses that they tend to run together in the reader’s mind, except for the eponymous Sixpence House, a former pub with water in the basement and canting floors that they pin their hopes on.

By necessity, the story of their house search is also the story of the Collins family getting to know the inhabitants of Hay-on-Wye. As you might expect in such a small town with such a large number of bookstores, the good folks of Hay-on-Wye are a tad eccentric. The main character, Richard Booth, considers bookselling an anarchistic profession, which is obvious by the cavalier attitude towards sectioning and shelving in his stores. Booth, the self-styled King of Hay, looms large over this small town, but there are plenty of other characters in town, like Martin Beale, the solicitor who wrote a book about a murder that happened to one of his predecessors, or Violet, the elderly proprietor of the Hogshead which serves what is apparently the most godawful cider known to man. These are “characters” in the southern sense of the word and might strike some as too much, but Collins’ fondness for them is palpable and mitigates the preciousness.

Collins is a writer with an attraction to the eccentric and the oddball. He picks up antique books on every subject imaginable, and somehow manages to glean something unique from every one. I can think of no greater compliment for a writer than for readers to be so fascinated with the topic at hand that they seek out information not covered in the book on their own. Darned if Collins hasn’t gotten me jonesing to read books like Dr. William Hammond’s 1883 A Treatise on Insanity in Its Medical Relations or Riccardo Nobili’s 1922 The Gentle Art of Faking. Collins really brings home the idea that any book, no matter how old or shopworn or unappealing-sounding, has treasures buried within for the careful excavator.

It is this idea that is the heart and soul of the book. Collins has a companionable voice and he sounds reasonable enough as the story unfolds. But that reasonableness is a facade: a seductive trap for the unwary bibliophile. Without your realizing it, Collins pulls you further and further off the path. It’s just a small detour; a quick side trip to see something really special, and before you know it, you’re somewhere far away from where you thought you were going. Collins’ gift is that you don’t care that you end up someplace different from where you wanted to go. The journey is enough
( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
I love any book-about-books this one is about Hay On Wye, the whole town full of bookshops in Wales. My dream vacation. ( )
  cookierooks | Nov 16, 2016 |
I did like this. It was more [b:Notes from a Small Island|28|Notes from a Small Island|Bill Bryson|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1156042888s/28.jpg|940892] and less [b:Books: A Memoir|2421737|Books A Memoir|Larry McMurtry|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1266810254s/2421737.jpg|2428917]. Still I shake my head about him shipping books (including bad" books because of their interesting titles) back and forth across the Atlantic. I'll never understand hoarding - public libraries and bookcrossing.com are the way to go! However, he writes of history, the British character, his child, the good people of Hay-on-Wye, and more with easy grace and no small wit, as the literary cliches go. I did prefer his way of saying that "The British do..." as opposed to Bryson's more "It's so frustrating the way the British do...."" ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Entertaining memoir....A treat for the bibliophile.
added by jburlinson | editKirkus (Mar 1, 2003)
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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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