Books about books: Sixpence House by Paul Collins

For years I’d heard of a Welsh village filled with bookstores. Even as recently as a year ago, a coworker of mine shared with me his account of visiting this seemingly mythical place, complete with a photograph of him surrounded by books at one of the village’s many shops. I’d even heard there was a book about this purported bibliophiles’ mecca. Then one afternoon while cruising the shelves of my public library I came across a copy of Paul Collins’ 2003 memoir Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. Upon inspection I realized that yes, this is THAT book about THAT bookshop-filled Welch town. So of course, I grabbed it.

Sixpence House is the story of Paul Collins, his wife and infant son and their adventures in Hay-on-Wye, a town of 1.500 residents and some forty bookstores. During their relatively short time in Hay Paul gets a job managing the American literature section at a local bookstore, fails miserably as a house-hunter and eventually applies for membership in the House of Lords. In telling his family’s story of life abroad he leavens his narrative with exerts from obscure and forgotten books, almost all of them from 19th century. Even though he meanders frequently while telling his family’s story, I never found his writing disorganized or hard to follow. I found Sixpence House charming and entertaining to read.

After reading Sixpence House, it’s obvious that Collins possesses a love of old books. Therefore, Sixpence House makes a great follow-up to books like The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession and A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict. Since it’s also one writer’s perspective on life as an American (even though Collins holds dual citizenship, which of course the United States legally speaking does not recognize) living in the United Kingdom, it’s a good book to read alongside The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British. But most importantly, if you like books, especially old ones, you can’t go wrong with Sixpence House.

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13 Comments

Filed under Area Studies/International Relations, Europe, Memoir

13 responses to “Books about books: Sixpence House by Paul Collins

  1. I focused on the memoir aspect of the book when asked for an opinion on biographies — and I explained the difference. Since I had recently read Sixpence House, it’s at the top of my examples.

    http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.com/2011/07/btt-biographies.html

    • Very good piece you wrote and it sums up rather nicely this differences between the two genres. Thanks for commenting and thanks also for posting that link. Thanks!!
      Haven’t seen your comments in a long time. Please visit again!!

      • Sorry it’s been so long. I’ve been reading blogs, but rarely having time to comment — or to write every day on my own blog. I’ll try to do better. Please know you are responsible for a large part of my mounting pile of TBR books. We like the same kind of books, it seems.

      • I know the feeling. Sometimes I go a week or two without posting. Of course this just puts me in the whole even more ’cause I certainly don’t stop finishing books!
        Thanks ever so much. I enjoy reading about your various selections. Many of yours are on my TBR as well!
        Glad you took the time to comment. I’m also honored that you read my blog. Thanks!

      • Yep, take a look at my sidebar and find yourself under “Blogs I read.” When a new post goes up here, I can see it on my blog. I haven'[t found a lot of people who read to learn or, as I say under my profile photo, “read to explore ideas.” Too many book bloggers read only YA fiction or romance novels, which I find boring. You, my friend, are not boring.

      • Thanks!! I am many things and boring is not one of them! LOL
        Thanks for the high praise! Thanks also for listing my blog on yours and by doing so allowing your readers to access mine if they find themselves curious.
        I’m a big fan of yours, too. Glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t go for YA and romance!

  2. I can never resist a book about books!

  3. I love books about books! I haven’t read this one but its now on my list. Thanks!

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