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Sixpence House by Paul Collins
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Sixpence House (2004)

by Paul Collins

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,066467,857 (3.63)118
  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 118 mentions

English (45)  Italian (1)  English (46)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
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 |
Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins 3 stars
Paul Collins is a young writer who decides to relocate his wife and young son from San Francisco to a small town in Wales called Hay on Wye. Hay has 40 book stores: used and antiquarian bookstores. There are some interesting tidbits about the people in the town, the architecture and of course books. I was able to find some things of interest in the book, but I was disappointed with the book overall. The book wandered much as the family did. It just didn’t go anywhere.
( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
Paul Collins moved his wife and baby from San Francisco to the small Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye. He wanted to give his son the chance to grow up as he had – in the country, free to roam the hills, exploring as any boy would love to do. But Hay-on-Wye is not just a small Welsh village. It is “The Town of Books” – with only 1500 residents and forty bookshops (almost all of them specializing in used / antiquarian books). This is a memoir of their family adventure.

Collins was born in America, of British parents. He had frequently traveled to England and Wales and was familiar with Hay-on-Wye. Still, living in a place is different from visiting it, and Collins soon finds himself immersed in the world of books in ways he hadn’t anticipated. His memoir includes thumbnail sketches of some of the eccentric inhabitants – including Richard Booth, the self-proclaimed King of Hay, who bought the ancient castle ruins and turned it into the least-organized bookstore imaginable. (Although Collins does cite one of my own local favorites – Renaissance Books in Milwaukee WI – as “the closest thing the United States has to Booth’s.”)

There are passages that would merit 4 stars, but overall the book gets 3 stars from me. I enjoyed it, and some references to obscure, long-forgotten books make me want to hunt those volumes down and read them, but I wasn’t particularly moved by this book.
( )
1 vote BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (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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