“So, you’re going to Richard Booth’s Bookshop, Hay on Wye?” the taxi driver asked when she picked me up outside of Bookish. “I have to tell you, finding a specific bookshop in Hay on Wye can be tricky. Finding a bookshop on the other hand is easy.”
I soon discovered that she was right. In the end, she just dropped me off at my hotel, where I checked in and then immediately went out again. I was going to be in Hay on Wye for two nights, so I was saving my real visit to Richard Booth’s Bookshop for tomorrow, but couldn’t resist a sort of preview.
So I walked out, followed the direction the woman at my hotel gave me, and then I just… halted.
They were everywhere. Poetry bookshops, Crime bookshops, general bookshops, small passages leading towards a bookshop, shops buying books. “Good God”, I thought, “how many bookshops can one town really need?”
And then I had a sort of existential crisis at the thought of me (me!) thinking there might be too many bookshops in a town.
But with so many second hand bookshops, did anyone even have books at home? Did the locals read?
“Well, to be honest, I think it’s mainly the tourists that buys the book”, the lady behind the counter at one of them said.
“And … and have there always been this many bookshops?”
“Many! There used to be many more of them, dear. We’re in decline. I think, right now, there’s only about twenty, perhaps. Maybe thirty. There used to be as many as forty. In the nineties, that was the golden age for bookshops. But I guess it’s the same everywhere?”
I have to admit that I did not know about Richard Booth and book cities and the story behind Hay on Wye. But the next day, I decided to find out.