As well as hosting one of the biggest literary festivals in the country, Hay-on-Wye is the official book town of Wales and home to over twenty bookshops. It was somewhat inevitable that I would end up visiting a few and making some purchases during my time at the festival last month…
One of the first bookshops I visited was the Hay Cinema Bookshop with Francis Edwards Antiquarian Books on the top floor. I made three more visits during the week and still feel like I barely scratched the surface of this enormous shop which has been based in a converted cinema since 1965. It’s a bit like Baggins Book Bazaar – another very large second-hand bookshop in Rochester, Kent – but with a much wider range of fiction including a large amount of brand new remainder stock. I bought seven books from the shop which has an excellent range of translated fiction and literary biographies.
Named after the self-proclaimed “King of Hay”, Richard Booth’s Bookshop is one of the biggest bookshops in Hay and definitely one of the busiest during festival week. It has a large range of both old and new fiction and non-fiction as well as crime fiction in the basement. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I uploaded a “Weird Hay Festival Book Title of the Day” photo every day I was at the festival and Booth’s was an excellent source for these.
Addyman Books run three shops in Hay: Addyman Books, The Addyman Annexe and Murder and Mayhem which specialises in detective fiction. I picked up a couple of Peirene Press titles in the Addyman Annexe which stocks more modern books while the original Addyman Books shop has more specialist sections if you’re into books about the occult and so forth.
At the festival site itself, the Hay Festival Bookshop and Oxfam Books tent were both doing a roaring trade throughout the week. Inevitably, the main bookshop only sold books written by those who were appearing at the Hay Festival and it was usually very busy with book signings held in the tent after each event. Although primarily known as a literary festival, I came away from Hay with the impression that it is very much a festival of ideas and the incredible range of non-fiction books on display was demonstrative of this. I picked up a copy of Jon Ronson’s new book ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ at the festival bookshop after his talk on the Telegraph stage. I also bought Andrew Solomon’s Wellcome Book Prize-winning ‘Far From the Tree: Parents, children and the search for identity’ although I didn’t attend his event.
Towards the end of the week, I also ventured out to Abergavenny where I came across this sign for visitors in a second-hand bookshop (I can’t remember the name). I didn’t leave a note.
In total, I bought thirteen books in Hay-on-Wye, mostly non-fiction, translated fiction and classic crime fiction. I tried to focus on books which are difficult to find in other places, particularly translated fiction. I found books I hadn’t heard of before and purchased on a whim (‘Anonymity’ by John Mullan is a history of authors who write under pseudonyms), books I had read about a while ago but forgotten (‘Ghosting’ by Jennie Erdal is a memoir of life as a ghostwriter and ‘Appointment with Yesterday’ by Celia Fremlin, an underrated mystery writer), and books I had been keeping an eye out for (any Peirene titles I don’t already own).
I would love to go to Hay-on-Wye again in the future. Even if my next visit doesn’t coincide with the week of the festival, I know there are plenty of good bookshops in the town to keep me occupied.