Since Richard Booth re-invented Hay-on-Wye as a Book Town, I decided to start exploring at his store . As an American, Richard Booth’s Bookshop felt quintessentially English to me. The wooden floors are well-worn and creaky, the overstuffed chairs and couches scattered throughout beg to be curled up in with a book, and there is even a cat lording over the place.
I started in the history section. When I lived in London a couple of decades ago, I noticed that the English take on world news was different than the news in the United States. A similar shift was evident to me in the history section. There was a greater emphasis and variety on European matters than the standard American bookstore. As a former Soviet Studies major, I found the the Russian/Soviet section far larger than anything I’ve seen outside a college bookstore in the US. The World War II section was huge and contained fascinating books on niche topics, more European in emphasis, less on the Pacific.
Half of the top floor contained literature, beautifully worn volumes of every author I could think of, some books looked well loved and others like new. The prices weren’t exactly competitive. I saw a paperback for £9.99 with is over $15, not a deal for a used book. Almost a quarter of the top floor held books dedicated to Christianity and spirituality. We spent the previous two days wandering around the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey and Tintern Abbey, testaments to the brutal repression of Catholicism over 400 years ago, so I particularly noted the shelves and shelves of books relating to Catholicism. So much for stamping out a religion. Reflecting how society has separated science and faith, the other side of the store has walls of books relating to all branches of science and computer technology.
The basement floor is enjoyably creepy. It has a low roof, I could hear the creaking wood from customers walking above, and there was an overwhelming musty smell. Appropriately, located here are mystery books, historical fiction and science fiction. It’s perfect.
As I left the store, I stopped in the front section which contained Folio Books. (I discovered many stores in Hay-on-Wye had a collection of Folio Books in the front section.) I hadn’t ever seen them before and discovered they are beautifully bound and illustrated books that have individual slipcover boxes. I’m very intrigued and will be looking into them in the future.
44 Lion St.
Hay-on-Wye, Hereford HR3 5AA
T: +44 01497 820322
F: +44 01497 821150