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Sixpence House by Paul Collins
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Sixpence House (original 2004; edition 2003)

by Paul Collins

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945None9,174 (3.64)113
Member:lycomayflower
Title:Sixpence House
Authors:Paul Collins
Info:Bloomsbury (2003), Edition: 2nd prt., Hardcover, 224 pages
Collections:Read
Rating:****
Tags:21st century, american, borrowed, LW3r, returned, memoir

Work details

Sixpence House by Paul Collins (2004)

  1. 10
    On Reading by André Kertész (Fliss88)
  2. 10
    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
    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.
  4. 00
    Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer (Fliss88)
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» See also 113 mentions

English (34)  Italian (1)  All languages (35)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
A personal memoir of someone not honestly that interesting. ( )
  gospodyina | Jan 5, 2014 |
As much as I am a bookaholic, I am glad I do not live in Hay-on-Wye as I believe that I would have no money left for food! It reminds me though of all the remainder books that libraries cannot sell but need to get rid of to make room for new books, or at least books that will actually be read/checked out. It is unfortunate that these books get passed along to the dumpster.
  VeritysVeranda | Sep 29, 2013 |
I learned about the book town of Hay-on-Wye which was the most rewarding aspect of the book. The author appeared to want to impress his audience with his knowledge of American literature so digressed repeatedly to prove that point. ( )
1 vote skraft001 | Jun 3, 2013 |
The story of the author's brief relocation from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye, on the English-Welsh borders, and his discovery that living somewhere and holidaying somewhere can be a very different experience. This fell between a sub-genre that I like (non-British author looks at British society with an outsider's perspective and offers some interesting insights on it) and one that I don't (author moves to another country because he thinks he'd like the lifestyle and then spends all his time wondering why it can't be more like home). Unfortunately, in this book I didn't find that the insights offered were very insightful, and that the prevalent theme was wondering fairly superficially why Britiain wasn't more like the US. And my problems weren't particularly because it's a US writer writing about the UK: there's a distinct sub-genre of books about British writers moving to France and discovering that it's all too ... well ... French, and I don't like those either.

I do think that if an author is going to make the sorts of general points that were being made in this book about what Britain is like then he needs to be able to look at his own experience constructively, to see whether it is characteristic of the country as a whole or specific to the particular circumstances in which he finds himself. And this was the area which I found quite annoying. For, instance, there's quite a lot of discussion about the paucity of what Collins can find in British shops compared to what's available in the U.S. But as he has no car he does his shopping in the small convenience stores that most British people only use to pick up the odd pint of milk or some chocolate on the way home from work, and that are used for a main shop only by those who can't afford the transport to go elsewhere. It would be like me moving to a small town in one of the less propsperous and cosmopolitan states of the US, limiting myself to shops within walking distance and then complaining that US shops didn't have a good a selection of French cheese as you can get in the UK. And I definitely didn't get this comment:

The kitchen, like a bizarrely high proportion of British kitchens that I have seen, is distinctively of 1950's vintage

The one thing that all sections of British society seems to agree on on moving house is the necessity of ripping out the kitchen as soon as possible, and replacing it with something new. I haven't seen a 1950's kitchen since about 1980. In fact, I think a genuine 50's kitchen would be a real selling point at the moment as it would be fashionably retro.

So while I might try something else on a different topic by this author, this one didn't work for me. ( )
1 vote SandDune | Feb 27, 2013 |
Right now I seem to be in this wonderful cycle of delightful books about books. I started the year with “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore”, then I caught up with Thursday Next in Jasper Fforde’s wonderful books, then “Village Books” by Craig McLay (which might only be available as an e-book but was fantastic)…and then “Sixpence House”.

This wonderful book about Paul Collin’s visit/move to a small town in England, Hay-on-Wye (population: 1500. Number of bookstores = 40) was so enjoyable to read. Not only does he describe and delight in the written world, the joy of reading, the texture and smell and heft of books, he gives the reader a colorful and meaningful look at this small town – including some very insightful contrasts to life in the United States.

As much of the story deals with a search for a house in Hay-on-Wye, he spends a good deal of time talking about architecture. The look and feel of the buildings and homes in small town England.

“…most building materials today will not age gracefully and were never meant to. They are only meant to be new. Perhaps the ancient brick walls in London weren’t built with much more foresight for their aesthetic future than any structure today; yet by their very nature they succeeded perfectly as ruins.”

The humor in this book is wonderful as well. As obvious as it is that Collins adores the British and many aspects of their way of life, he does poke gentle fun at them…or maybe I should say, with them. “No situation is so dire that it cannot be interrupted for tea. It is particularly important to the British when it is cold and damp outdoors, which is often, or when it is cold and damp indoors, which is always.”

And, “The fellow roots around and walks us to an oaken side door of the castle, producing from his pocket a skeleton key so weighty that he has clearly stolen it from Vincent Price.”

Collins gives the same treatment to American life, though possibly with just a bit more edge. (This made it all the more funny, as far as I was concerned.) “The fresh milk is gone too. It just seems so strange to be denied this; to an American, finding empty shelves in a market, to be told that you can’t buy something, is a little like waking up and being told that gravity has been switched off until further notice.”

And yet, the most wonderful aspect of this book, is his underlying love and fascination with books. He writes them, reads them, collects them, organizes them…is surrounded by these wonderful chronicles of human dreams, ideas, history, ideas of the future.

And here, too, his gentle humor shines through. Surrounded as he has been for his life by books, he knows them well enough to poke a bit of fun at them as well. “If a book cover has raised lettering, metallic lettering, or raised metallic lettering, then it is telling the reader: Hello, I am an easy-to-read work on espionage, romance, a celebrity, and/or murder. To readers who do not care for such things, this lettering tells them: Hello, I am crap. Such books can use only glossy paper for the jacket; Serious Books can use glossy finish as well, but it is only Serious Books that are allowed to use matte finish.”

(And one delightful coincidence between the last two books about books that I’ve read? Both mention the English cider “Scrumpy” – though with wildly differing opinions of the drink.)

I loved “Sixpence House” and dreaded finishing it – I can only hope my luck in books continues. ( )
  karieh | Feb 19, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (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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