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Sixpence House

Sixpence House

Автор Paul Collins

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Sixpence House

Автор Paul Collins

4/5 (35 оценки)
280 страниц
4 часа
15 дек. 2010 г.


"Sixpence House is the bookworm's answer to A Year in Provence." -Boston Globe

Paul Collins and his family abandoned the hills of San Francisco to move to the Welsh countryside-to move, in fact, to the village of Hay-on-Wye, the "Town of Books" that boasts fifteen hundred inhabitants-and forty bookstores. Taking readers into a secluded sanctuary for book lovers, and guiding us through the creation of the author's own first book, Sixpence House becomes a heartfelt and often hilarious meditation on what books mean to us.

A #1 BookSense Pick
"A delightful book."-Los Angeles Times
"Collins' gift is that you don't care where you end up. The journey is enough."-Readerville
"The real, engaging heart of the tale is Collins' love of books and other people who love them...Collins muses on antiquarian books the way the rest of us remember lost loves."-San Francisco Chronicle
"Funny, informative, somewhat chaotic and full of interesting references...there are numerous meanders into peripheral subjects, seen through the astute eyes of an Anglophile American."-Washington Post
15 дек. 2010 г.

Об авторе

Paul Collins has written over 130 books and 140 short stories. He is best known for The Quentaris Chronicles, which he co-edits with Michael Pryor, The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars and The World of Grrym trilogy in collaboration with Danny Willis.Paul’s latest picture book is The Glasshouse, illustrated by Jo Thompson. Espionage space thriller, The Only Game in the Galaxy, the final exhilarating instalment of his YA series, The Maximus Black Files, was released in September 2013. Most recently he and Sean McMullen co-wrote the action-packed fantasy series, Warlock’s Child.Paul has been short-listed for many awards and won the Aurealis, William Atheling and the inaugural Peter McNamara awards. He has had two Notable Books in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.

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Sixpence House - Paul Collins


Chapter One

Begins Both the Book and the Journey

I HAVE NEVER noticed the view from the Flatiron Building before. Manhattan, if you tilt your head just right, is a strangely compelling piece of sculpture.

It’s a good thing, my editor says, that your book isn’t being published just now.


Because – he leans forward – Harry Potter used up all our paper.

You’re joking.



He looks at me, a little crestfallen. I’m telling you the truth. There’s two major paper producers for New York publishers, and with a five-million print run of an eight-hundred-page book, well . . . everybody else has to wait in line.

I leaf through the glossies for the photo insert to my book. It has been less than thirty-six hours since I finished writing it on the other side of the continent, in a home that I now no longer own. I was still writing as the movers cleared the furniture out of the apartment, still writing as Jennifer packed the luggage and nursed Morgan to sleep, and as she double-checked that we had my British passport and her and Morgan’s visas. I was writing at midnight, at one o’clock, at two o’clock. The computer was the last thing to go into a box, its plastic housing still hot, just five minutes after I had e-mailed the manuscript to my agent.

So, – I set down the glossies – publishers are fighting for scraps of paper?

So to speak.

Like any editor, he has at least two office walls covered with books; slick stacks of summer catalogs are slipping off his desk; and outside in the editorial department are boxes of books and bound proofs, and yet more walls covered with more books, right down to an incongruous set of old encyclopedias.

A paper shortage? You’d think he’d welcome it.

But one gets the wrong view from the Flatiron Building. For I live in a very small world. So, reader, do you. At this moment, it is just you and I, and it does not matter if you are reading this two hundred years after I have died, or translated into languages unknown to me. We have an understanding. But there are not many of us, and there never have been.

If you grew up in a rural area, you have seen how farmhouses come and go, but the dent left by cellars is permanent. There is something unbreakable in that hand-dug foundational gouge into the earth. Books are the cellars of civilization: when cultures crumble away, their books remain out of sheer stupid solidity. We see their accumulated pages, and marvel – what readers they were!

But were they?

Back in the 1920s, booksellers assessed the core literary population of the United States, the people who could be relied on to buy books with a serious content, at about 200,000 people. This, in a country of 100 million: a ratio of about 500 to 1. It was this minuscule subset spread out over a three-thousand-mile swath, this group of people who could fit into a few football stadiums, that thousands of books released each year had to compete for. Perhaps the ratio has gone higher since then. You see, literary culture is perpetually dead and dying; and when some respected writer discovers and loudly proclaims the finality of this fact, it is a forensic marker of their own decomposition. It means that they have artistically expired within the last ten years, and that they will corporeally expire within the next twenty.

Readers always seem scarce. Before we left San Francisco, my wife and I went on a neighborhood house tour organized by our block association. Our stretch of Waller Street was crammed with Victorian flats, and we all oohed and aahed over each other’s wainscoting, box ceilings, and carved mantels. Yet, walking away from the whole thing, stuffed with architecture and potato salad, I felt a nagging doubt.

Did you notice, I asked my wife, ours was the only house with books?

We rounded the corner of Cole, where a broken TV lay in the sidewalk.

I noticed you made a beeline for their bookcases.

It is the oldest and most incorrigible trait of the booklover.

Yeah, I know. Here’s the thing: all those beautiful built-in bookshelves? They don’t hold any books.

And maybe they never did. If you turn the yellowed pages of a volume of Temple Bar magazine back to 1881, when these homes were built, you find this:

It really is an APPALLING thing to think of the people who have no books . . . It is only by books that most men and women can lift themselves above the sordidness of life. No books! Yet for the greater part of humanity that is the common lot. We may, in fact, divide our fellow-creatures into two branches – those who read books and those who do not.

Times have not changed much. A recent survey found that half of American households did not buy a single book in the previous year. I knew this statistically, even as I toured my neighbors’ houses. And I knew it viscerally when our real estate agent looked around our own flat a few months later.

You have too many books in here. Home buyers don’t like books.

He saw my expression, and shrugged helplessly. Really. You should hide them.

We did hide them, in the end; we were desperate to leave, because we couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco anymore. I tried to imagine a life in the British countryside instead.

It’ll be great was what I told Jennifer as the Muni bus roared by outside the nursery of our flat. We’ll sell this place, go abroad, and live in an old, old house with old, old books. I’ll write books and play piano in the parlor, you’ll write books and paint in the garret, and at night . . . we’ll drink Horlicks and listen to the BBC.

And then I spread my hands out to indicate what a grand idea it was.

Jennifer pondered this, tapping a pen on a dire bank statement while our son, Morgan, struggled manfully to free himself from his diaper.

Hay-on-Wye? she said.


Hay is a small town.


Very small.


You won’t miss the U.S.?

I won’t miss guns.

That’s true.

Or SUVs.


And Britain has national health.


And the countryside’s a good place to be a kid.

That’s true, she said.

And Hay has a castle right in the middle of town.

Mmm hmm.

A skateboard rumbles down the pavement outside.

But, she adds, if we sell our place here, we can never afford to live in San Francisco again. We can’t come back.


And we’ll have to move all our books.

Ye – oh, god.

So I went to Haight Mail. Haight Mail is a little shop crammed with PO boxes and copiers off the corner of Masonic, and I had to fax some stuff to my magazine editor anyway. As their fax machine dialed, I tapped my foot and stared at the wall, and then at the store’s proprietor.

You sell shipping boxes, right?

Yeah. What are you sending?


How many?

I paused to make the calculations. About . . . two thousand. Maybe three.

His eyebrows rise. Sent individually?

No, no. I’m moving.

To where?


He is silent for a long moment. How, he finally asks, did you get so many books?


I am from Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania, a town so small that it had no traffic lights, no streetlights, no stores, and barely any other kids within walking distance. This gave me lots of time to read. But what I chose to read was a little odd. My parents, being ambitious immigrants – my mother grew up in cramped servants’ quarters in Berkshire, my father in Depression-era Liverpool – had bought an outrageously oversize, tumbledown house, and they collected antiques just to fill it up. We’d haunt the auctions of the recently deceased with an old 1940s copy of Who’s Who, cross-referenced with the estate auction listings in the Pottstown Mercury.

A lawyer from Boston, Mom would note, circling the listing. I bet he has good furniture.

They’d drag me off on weekends to the bidding. And so there I was, eight years old, in a crowd of sweating, cigar-smoking Pennsylvania Dutchmen, the auctioneer spouting that idiotic bidding dialect over a badly distorting PA. My height placed me exactly at ass level of the crowd, and when I tired of reading the rivets on the seats of their overalls, I’d sneak over to the lunch cart, wolf down a Tastykake, and then sit out on the ruined lawn, where the grass was all pressed down from moving trucks and rugs and cardboard boxes.

We found a chandelier, my parents might say, dragging a box over to our blue Volvo. But they’d always have found more than that. Estate-sale boxes never contain just one thing; surviving relatives will empty out the kitchen drawers and the attic trunks into these boxes, because it is better to have bidders pay for your trash than it is to pay for haulers to take it away. Often the lots included old books, which might as well have been trash; nobody ever cared about them.

Here. Dad would toss me a nineteenth-century chemistry manual. Something for your room.

I’d leaf through obsolete geology textbooks and forgotten historical romances, and ponder their battered covers and rust-speckled pages. An 1897 edition of Surface Currents of the Great Lakes (with diagrams, of course); an undated and strangely compelling, old, board-bound book titled Great Sea Stories, with glassine still clinging to the illustrated cover; a rather smelly and stained copy of Gattermann’s Practical Methods of Organic Chemistry – full of mold spores, appropriately enough. These books held the same fascination for me as the buffalo nickels or mercury dimes that I collected. How did this get here? How did this book, once the pride of a country doctor’s library, wind up in an eight-year-old’s hands in a forgotten corner of Pennsylvania in 1977?

These books were different from the Three Investigators mysteries that I mail-ordered from Scholastic, different from the Star Trek novelizations by James Blish that I’d buy from some guy down the road who had a nitrate-saturated chicken coop full of tatty paperbacks. No, these were old. They looked old, they even smelled old. They used old words; the cadences were all wrong, the facts all out-of-date. My most beloved book was a relative youngster: a 1951 volume by Willie Ley called Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel. I razored out its atmospheric chart and Scotch-taped it to my wall, next to my giant poster of Doctor J. It showed the highest altitude achieved by any manned vehicle as 72,395 feet. And yet the creamy plate paper, the yellow embossing of a pointy fifties sci-fi rocket on the cover, the feeling of reading Ley’s speculation on a moon shot and knowing more than the author did – the true classical sense of irony, where the audience is aware of the ending even as the players of history are not – these things appealed to me in a way that I couldn’t explain to my parents or even my best friend.

I have found, rereading Ley’s book two decades later, that a number of obscure oddities that turn up in books I have written – the Moon hoax by John Locke, the wondrous book Mathematicall Magick published by Bishop Wilkins in 1648, the interplanetary heat ray proposed by Charles Gros – are all described in Ley’s volume. I had quietly absorbed these fantastic notions as a child, only to discover them again in moldering library books decades later; what I thought was the shock of discovery was, unknown to me, a shock of recognition. It is hard to know just how many times we have been exposed to a word, a face, an idea, before we have it. The very idea of an originating point for much of anything becomes hard to pin down. Ley says as much in the words that open his book:

The story of an idea is, of necessity, the story of many ideas. Ideas, like large rivers, have never just one source. Just as the water of a river near its mouth is composed largely of the waters of many tributaries, so an idea, in its final form, is composed largely of later additions. And because this is so, it is often difficult to find the source of a river or the beginnings of an idea.

The same might be said of this book. I wrote it; my name is on the title page. But it did not entirely come from me: it is from many writers, and many books, without a clear starting point. I couldn’t even tell you how this book really began.

Chapter Two

Relies on the Travelogue Cliché of a Garrulous Cabdriver

WHEN I LEFT MY publisher’s office in Manhattan, the city was stinking hot, and so I assumed that – of course – London would be just as hot. Now I am shivering out on Queensway and trying to find a cab. Instead, an overloaded truck lumbers past, its sides emblazoned:

Bowsley Brothers Crispy Bacon Specialists

Jennifer and Morgan, at least, are still sheltered in our hotel room; I’m out working on my own for the day, leaving my wife to ponder how best to get a baby and stroller over to the Tate Modern.

Eventually I succeed in hailing a stout and shiny black taxi. I slide in across the backseat.

Great George Street.

I do not know where Great George Street is, but I gather from the name that it is a short and narrow street, on which no person named George has ever resided.

Where on Great George?

The Institute of Civil Engineers.

I rifle through my notes. We have to spend the day in London before going to Hay, because I’m paying for this leg of the family exodus by writing a piece for an American tech magazine on retrostructures. This is a word I have made up. I am very good at coining neologisms when free plane tickets are involved. Retrostructures are, you see, old infrastructures retrofitted for fiber optics. This, at least, is what I told the magazine. I do not mention that, before the meeting, the word did not exist.

"You know where to find these . . . retrostructures?" an editor asked.

Oh, my, yes, I told him. Why, London is crawling with them.

The cabbie’s gray eyes observe me in the mirror. So you’re not out for the Queen Mum?


Queen Mum. The cab dodges another barricade of fluorescent-vested officers waving us around. It’s her hundredth birthday. Lots of streets closed – including yours, I gather.

And yet we reach it.

They’re predicting big crowds today, for a parade or something, he adds. But I expect the Queen Mum will be disappointed.

I look out the window: he’s right. The masses who have not shown up for the Millennium Dome are not showing here either. The street is empty, save for hundreds of police, walking with hands clasped behind their backs, looking quite stern in their black, tit-headed helmets. The only civilian is a single forlorn custodian, who stands with his rubbish stick at the ready. He is waiting to spear the first crumpled crisps packet that flutters out of some pensioner’s string bag.

Mr. Thomas, an engineer for Cable & Wireless, is showing me around the Institute library. Their library is quite lovely, tallceilinged and echoey, replete with old books on hydraulics and steam-valve fittings. The building is old and marble and wooden, a heroic structure from the steam age of Brunel and Bessemer, back when civil engineering seemed miraculous.

It is hard to imagine today the utter difference between a Victorian structure and our own. We can effortlessly manufacture sheets of glass that will dwarf a man, and steel beams stronger and purer than what anyone in Brunel’s age could have dreamed of. Structure becomes pliable, plastic. And within those structures you really have plastic, infinitely moldable and colored. To walk into one of these old buildings is to wonder: can you imagine building a computer, or a refrigerator, out of wood and stone? It is an entirely different realm of materials and all the parameters that limit them. And they have a different touch and smell; I can recognize the sweetish smell of steam heating and old wood benches, and I think of myself back in my old school, sitting in chapel and staring at the memorial names of past students from the classes of 1917 and 1918 on the opposite wall, all killed off by war and influenza.

I must go now, Thomas tells me as I pore over the minutes from an old engineering conference. But you might want to know, it’s just a rumor, but I hear there’s fiber cable laid alongside the old Regent’s Canal.

After photocopying some declassified reports about a WWII repair made on the Tower Tunnel – a pedestrian tunnel built under the Thames, next to the Tower of London, which became so overrun with hookers and pickpockets that it was closed down and converted to a giant utility conduit – I proceed out of the Institute and down a few random streets, hugging my body against the cold and looking for a shop where I can buy an A to Z map to London. The map’s creator, Phyllis Pearsall, first moved to London in 1935, after a divorce, thinking she’d become a portrait painter. And so she did; but of a place, rather than a person.


A bobby is looking at me inquisitively.

I stop walking; the access is blocked. It is Downing Street.

Ah. I nod and move on.

Once I find a map and provision myself at a Boots with a pickle sandwich, a squeeze box of Ribena, and a disposable camera, I’m ready to go infrastructure hunting. I sit on a cold stone bench in front of a monument and thumb through the A to Z, then pore over a Tube map so miniaturized that it resembles a circuit board. The canal, it turns out, is near King’s Cross, a station I have been to many times to use the British Library. But when I finally disembark at the tube stop – minding the gap – I resist the pull of the library. This time I turn the opposite corner and immediately know that I am not in Tourist Approved London anymore. The street smells like it is paved with kidney stones. About half the buildings are boarded up, and the few stores left open have hand-lettered signs. There is no Queen Mum here. There are no bearskin-helmeted guards. One block of flats has sunken front garden plots, or what had once been garden plots, now stuffed several feet deep with fast-food wrappers. Old brickpile factories stare vacantly, and in the distance the empty skeleton of a gasworks looms over the river.

I step gingerly down to the canal’s towpath. A group of men are sitting by the riverside fishing and drinking imported Budweisers from a cooler.

Afternoon, one greets me cheerily with a tip of his beer.

I look at the scummy water. What are you fishing for?

Dinner, says another.

I walk on; a few ducks paddle peacefully around the plastic bags floating in the water; ivy crawls around the grimy old brick walls facing the canal, sprouting out of crumbling holes that once held valves and overflow pipes. It all feels slightly sad, like those long stretches of dead-mill brickshells encrusting the Amtrak line in Virginia, the overgrown ruins of old factories so plaintive that it just makes you want to move to Athens, Georgia, and start a band.

I sometimes wonder whether century-old ruins look so beautiful to us because they were meant to ruin in a beautiful way. There was a Romantic fascination with structural decay; wealthy gentry had custom-built ruins erected on their estates, their own little Country Churchyards to elegize in. And so in a time when many stonemasons were engaged with increasingly elaborate cities of the dead, lavishly constructed urban cemeteries where only pestilential graveyards once stood, soon you get architects thinking of decay too.

There is, in San Francisco, a beautiful spot not far off the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts. It is an echoing rotunda and a set of classical columns projecting up before a calming pond; it seems so at odds with the wooden California architecture all around it that the effect is startling, like Kirk and his landing party stumbling upon a Roman temple on an alien planet’s surface. Not so many years ago, before I met my wife or found gainful employment, I’d crash on a friend’s floor in the Marina, wake at no particular hour, and walk over to that pond, armed with a mug of coffee that I’d swiped from the kitchen, and prepare for my doctoral exams with

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35 оценки / 32 Обзоры
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  • (4/5)
    Amusing travelog, especially for bibliophiles. A quick read.
  • (4/5)
    Wales's little town of Hay-on-Wye, or just "Hay," is known as the "Town of Books." With 1,500 residences and forty bookstores, what better place for a writer to move from Manhattan? Collins writes about his time in the village as a writer, as a house hunter, and as a new father in a whimsical manner; lacing the prose with mini lectures on long-dead writers, dust jackets not doing their one job, and what it means when an author's color photograph occupies the entire cover of a book. Collins has a sense of humor that is self-deprecating (just try not to giggle when he shares the story of inadvertently peeing on his manuscript of Banvard's Folly). You find yourself wanting to have a cup of coffee with him just to hear more. My only complaint? No photographs. Confessional: I love a book that makes mention of Wallace and Gromit!
  • (2/5)
    A personal memoir of someone not honestly that interesting.
  • (3/5)
    I think this book could have just as easily been called Hay , or The Apartment . I guess Sixpence was the last straw though . I learned something, but at times it was certainly train of thought story telling .
  • (3/5)
    This is the story of Paul Collins and his family who move from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye (or just Hay), the "Town of Books". I can understand why he would want to move there as they are a Town Of Books. If you don't understand the appeal of that please stop reading both this review and do not start the book.

    The charm of this is book is the references to so many books we probably wouldn't have heard about if not for Paul's love for used, antiquarian books. And his interactions with the people of Hay, his obvious love of things British, even though I think he's more American then he wants to be. He and his wife think they love old houses as well - until they realize both what it costs to purchase a crumbling pile but more importantly what it would cost to repair said pile.

    I enjoyed this book up to the end as they are moving back to America - it's almost as if he's so proud of bashing all things American and so proud of realizing that his parents had it wrong by moving to States that when he and his wife decide to move back Stateside that the end of the book he's covering his mouth and mumbling, "and we went back".

    If only he just ended the book with the knowledge that he and the family decide not to live in Hay I think the book would have ended better and I would have been left with the feeling, as I did from the beginning that this was a lovely book about bookstores and someone who loves books.
  • (4/5)
    I love any book-about-books this one is about Hay On Wye, the whole town full of bookshops in Wales. My dream vacation.
  • (4/5)
    In anticipation of the release of his first work, a writer moves with his family to a book town in Wales. The text centers on their efforts to find a suitable house to buy (unsuccessful; apparently authentically ancient homes are both expensive to buy and even more expensive to remodel), and explore the many bookstores that serve as the main economic driver of the town. Being real life, it lacks the neat dramatic bow to tie things all together. After much effort, in the end they decide just to move back to the States, so it is all much ado about nothing. But the telling is delightful, with touches of wry humor. Collins offers interesting insights into the book publishing process -- he discusses the choosing of a book cover, and the remaindering of titles -- but some of these digressions go a tad overlong.
  • (5/5)
    LOVED IT!!! I will go to Hay on Wye someday.
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    A true story of bibliophile and writer, Collins moving his wife and toddler to the Welsh village, of Hay-on-Wye, pop. 1,500, 40 Antiquarian bookshops. A delight for Anglophiles, bibliophiles and writers. I laughed, I learned, I underlined whole pages.
  • (1/5)
    Because of their love of books, Paul Collins and his wife, with baby, moved from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye in Wales, a town renowned for the high number of bookshops. Unfortunately this pair of incompetents are unable to find their dream house with a rock bottom price, and are dissatisfied that Britain doesn't do things as they are done in America.This book seemed like a perfect choice for someone who loves everything to do with books. It turned out to be so disappointing, boring, tedious, and seriously annoying. I'm sure Hay-on-Wye is a charming place but better off without Collins.
  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (5/5)
    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
  • (3/5)
    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 vintageThe 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.
  • (4/5)
    It was the cover that made me pick up this book and take it home to read, and I'm so glad it did. I loved it, but then i think any book lover would! Sixpence House is a book about books, about the people who read them, sell them, write them, store them and most of all, love them. Set in the Mecca of the book selling world, Hay-On-Way, Paul Collins gives us a small glimpse of a town with 40 book stores, and of the people who live and work in them.
  • (4/5)
    Collins recounts his stay with his wife and infant son in Hay-on-Wye, a town in the Welsh countryside with well over thirty used bookstores. He and his wife consider settling there, and the book tells of their search for a house and Collins's encounters with the local residents and book-lovers as well as relates anecdotes from Collins's wide-ranging reading (particularly from forgotten texts of the 19th century) and his experiences as a writer. Pleasant, sometimes informative, and a nice twist on the usual material one usually sees in a book-about-books.
  • (5/5)
    Having read this book - I wish that I would have heard of it from a glowing book review and then chosen to buy it at list price from a groovy local bookseller. But, instead, I picked up a copy from the local library book sale - because of the cute cover and sub-title. I've fallen in love with Paul Collin's dry humor and observations spanning American and British idiosyncrasies. I hope to read more of Collins, either from across the pond or in the states
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    A family relocates from San Francisco to Hay on Wye, Wales in pursuit of their dream of owning a bookstore. But they are frustrated in that dream by being unable to find an affordable house to buy.This memoir is filled with charm that makes me ache with nostalgia to revisit Wales and get to Hay on Wye that I missed on my last trip. A gentle read about an American writer (Paul Collins), his wife, Jennifer and their toddler son, Morgan.Chock full of literary references, including – to my delight – a scene from Jerome K. Jerome’s "Three Men in a Boat," a book I just finished. I love when literary serendipity happens!Plenty of cogent comments on the state of nonliterate-ness in the USA as well as architectural observations on ruins (“natural” and “artificed”), public buildings, and private houses. Frequent bejeweled sentences like this one: "The street smells like it is paved with kidney stones," satisfy. What an elegant and original way to describe the pissoire scent of a derelict neighborhood. Constant reference to rare, out of print, and quirky books with little snippets from same included. All around armchair read. I’m envious of Mr. Collins.
  • (3/5)
    Sixpence House by Paul Collins is a rambling reflection on his life, books and the time the family spent in the fascinating town of books, Hay-on-Wye. I was looking forward to this book hoping for a nice comfortable story of how he and his family set off from America and found their true home in this small Welsh town. Unfortunately I had my expectations raised a little high as this was not the book I read. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate this book, there were some interesting tidbits, but they are scattered and you must wade through a lot of useless, trivial detail to get to them.At times he rants against all things American and perhaps with a view to equal time, he then turns and rants against all things British. This pointing of fingers at these two countries to me felt very mean-spirited. He writes of his love of this particular town, but I never felt that love in these pages. Overall I found Sixpence House to be a little too disjointed and cerebral for me. I would love to visit Hay-on-Wye as I am sure it is a delightful place, especially for book lovers but I certainly don’t feel like I was able to get a clear picture from this book.
  • (5/5)
    Hay-on-Wye is my idea of the ideal vacation place! 1500 people, 40 bookstores, millions of books to discover!! Plus, they do a book festival every spring which I'm really hoping to get to next year.Sixpence House is a memoir written by a British-American who decides, along with his wife and young son, to move to Hay-on-Wye to pursue an ideal countryside life and work on his novels. Unfortunately, they realize that it's hard to break into the housing market there, and ultimately some dreams are best left as dreams. Although they end up moving back to the USA, it still gives me hope that my crazy dream of moving to the South of France and opening a bookstore might come true!Sixpence House is even better however because of Mr. Collins writing. He's funny and observant, and the little bits of literary trivia make this one of the most interesting books I've read in quite awhile! I think I've added about thirty new books now to my wishlist thanks to this book, including Mr. Collins first novel about people who disappeared into the footnotes of history.This is a great little travel memoir. I've read it a few times, and yet I still love to come back to it. I absolutely recommend you give this book a try!!
  • (4/5)
    Megareaders will love this sweet tale of a small family that moves to Wales and the small town of Hay, which is the world's capital of second hand books. Each week tractor trailers of titles came from estate sales and bookstore closings to this small village, where they were snapped up, priced, and resold by more than 40 stores. Naturally, most of these books, like most books in general, were flashes in the plan, and failed to get followings when ey were first made available. IBut for the author, that's what makes this town so great - the opportunity to read forgotten words and ideas and by doing so expand his appreciation for writers and literature. In addition to his travelogue synopsis of the famiy's adjustment to a new country, the author sprinkles in lots of meaningful and irreverent quotations for forgotten books, magazines, and journals he finds seemingly at random in the shops. It was a great days diversion for me, and I definitely recommend you give it a read. It may make you think twice about picking up a used book you've never heard of as well.
  • (3/5)
    Maybe I was expecting too much, having heard high praise for Sixpence House from a number of fellow readers that I generally trust. I imagined a sort of booklover's 'Doc Martin,' a charming town of quirky characters. But I found the book to be more of a rambling, rather disjointed personal essay. I'm not a regular reader of memoirs, so perhaps I'm just not used to the style and tone. I didn't feel that I got a very good picture of Hay or the locals or why, exactly, Paul had decided to move his family there in the first place. Because the residents seem to care more about books than Americans? (A rather lame reason, even for a book lover.)
  • (4/5)
    Can you imagine living in a town with forty bookstores? And this is a small town with about 1,500 inhabitants, not a huge metropolitan area. Hay-on-Wye in Wales is this town; and author Paul Collins lived there with his wife and toddler son for a couple years. This story is told in “Sixpence House”.Paul, his wife, Jennifer and son Morgan leave San Francisco to live in Hay-on-Wye. This book is also the story of Mr. Collins going through the editing and publication process of his first book (“Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World"). So, each chapter is titled as such: “Chapter One Begins Both the Book and the Journey”, “Chapter Twelve is Crap that Nobody Reads Anymore”, and so on.I like Mr. Collins’ humor, and how he shares with us the quirky characters that he encounters in Hay-on-Wye. Mr. Collins has a penchant for discussing obscure books he finds in the bookshops there, and also shares arcane information with us. He even becomes an employee when the “King of Hay” (owner of the local castle which houses the town’s largest bookstore) insists that he needs Mr. Collins to set up an American section of his bookstore.Mr. Collins also enjoys comparing the difference between Britain and America — some of them may be sweeping generalities, however, such as this one:“…I am in the next room taking a bath. This is because there is no point in taking showers in Britain. In the United States, water pressure presses; in Britain water pressure sucks. Every shower in Britain has some sorth of Heath Robinson mechanism — he is their equivalent of Rube Goldberg, only Robinson had to work with metric wrenches and 220 current….”I really like the chapter about unspoken rules in publishing and how books are judged by the dust jacket style that they end up being encased in. Mr. Collins state that publishers feel that chance buyers don’t really look at the jacket copy or blurbs; but that they mainly make their decisions based on the cover design. “There is an implicit code that customers rely on. 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.”Then there are the colors chosen for covers. Mr. Collins point out that “a work of Serious Literature will have muted, tea-stained colors. Black is okay here too, but only if used to accentuate cool blues and grays and greens”.And this:“Finally, on Serious Books and crap alike there will be a head shot of The Author sitting still while looking pensive or smiling faintly into the indeterminate distance — the one pose that has no existence in the author’s daily life. The size of the photo will be in inverse proportion to the quality of the book. If this photo is rendered in color, it is not a Serious Book. If there is no author photo at all, then it is a Serious Book indeed — perhaps even a textbook”.Okay, one more. This is about books that end up in remainders:“Among the many banes to a secondhand dealer’s existence, four unloved genres reign supreme: textbooks, theology, celebrity autobiography, and military history.”This is a book that is mostly about books, but not just that. If you enjoy thoughts on the reading life, quirky real-life characters, and a taste of what it’s like to be an ex-pat, you will enjoy “Sixpence House”. It does not seem to be currently in print, which is a shame, but still seems to be found online at reasonable prices.
  • (4/5)
    Just a delightful read.Paul Collins, his wife Jennifer, and toddler Morgan decide to relocate to England to experience an idyllic English countryside life. But, where to go? As they both have mobile careers (he - writer, she - artist) -- they pick Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh/English border, a town of more bookstores than people.The story is about their experience of being ex-pats (one I know well), attempting to buy a house with the bizzare English estate system, and live and work in town without driving a car.
  • (5/5)
    “Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books” is a refreshing first person account of life in Welsh (UK) town – a book town – perhaps THE quintessential used book town. Wonderful anecdotes highlighting the contrasting American and British worldviews. Multitudinous quotes from very obscure books. Recommended for all who love browsing for used book treasures.
  • (3/5)
    Quick read that I enjoyed, chuckled at some funny bits, wrote down titles/authors. Sometimes I get tired of hearing things like, "Why do you read so much?" or "You've read everything!" and it can be nice to read about people who would never even think of saying such nonsense.
  • (2/5)
    This book is billed on the cover as "The Bookworm's answer to A Year in Provence." It's not nearly as good. It has moments of mirth, wedged between pages of boring 'where is this going?' blabber. The characters, including the author/narrator were not well developed, there was no plot, nor was there really an indication of what the book was supposed to be. If I had to describe it I'd say "notes from an adult adolescent looking for a way to enjoy life w/o working for a living" The first 8-10 of the 20 chapters were not too bad, at least I thought there was something that might be going to happen. But it just kept getting worse.It wasn't even really very much about books. It was set in a famous real life town in Wales, Hay-on-Wye, where there are 1500 permanent residents and 42 bookstores. But....trust me, after reading this book, I have no more picture of this town, its inhabitants, or its obsession with books than I know how to make homemade sausage.
  • (5/5)
    Loved this book! How a tiny Welsh town has become the second-hand book capitol of Great Britain. Collins actually moved his family from San Francisco to spend a year in Hay-on-Wye. At first it sounds crazy, then I began envying him. He describes the weird inhabitants , including a local King, and deals with housing problems-BUT the town has more than forty bookstores.
  • (5/5)
    Collins's account of his time in Hay-on-Wye, a small Welsh town with a proliferation of booksellers, is consistently witty and engaging.