Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Richard Booth and his Booktowns

Hay-on-Wye from Wikipedia

Hay-on-Wye (Welsh: Y Gelli Gandryll or Y Gelli), often described as "the town of books", is a market town in Brecknockshire, Wales, very close to the border with England, within the Brecon Beacons National Park. Hay is a mecca for bibliophiles, boasting forty-one bookshops (mostly selling second-hand books, and including two "visiting bookshops") in and around a town of some 1,300 people. The bookshops for which the town is now world-famous are a relatively recent innovation. The name most closely associated with the book trade in Hay is that of Richard George William Pitt Booth, who, on April 1, 1977, sought publicity by declaring Hay an "independent republic" with himself as its king. The tongue-in-cheek micronation of Hay-on-Wye and its "king" (who wields an old toilet-plunger in place of a sceptre) is today known chiefly for selling novelty low-cost "peerages" to bemused tourists.

Since 1988, Hay has been the venue for a literary festival, sponsored by The Guardian newspaper, which draws a claimed 80,000 visitors over ten days at the beginning of June to see and hear big literary names from all over the world.

The booktrade in Hay-on-Wye was begun in 1961 by Richard Booth, an Oxford graduate, whose family have lived near Hay-on-Wye since 1903.

By the late 1970s Hay had become the first book town and was said to contain over a million books. The town quickly achieved national and international fame which was partly due to the novelty of the book town concept, but equally to Booth's flamboyant personality and the spectacular, highly publicised run-ins he managed to engineer with government bureaucracies.

From vast libraries in Danish Castles, to Belgian Chateaux, to American colleges, the wide ranging international sources of secondhand books in the town gives good reason for the customer to come to Hay.

"You buy books from all over the world and your customers come from all over the world" was Richard Booth's idea and it worked.

According to Richard Booth the used book is the best means of revitalizing a collapsing rural economy. We here at Last Word Books couldn't agree more but also believe the used book to be an integral part of urban economies and cultures as well. Anyone interested in seminaring about the power of the used book should contact lastwordbooks@yahoo.com or sky.cosby@gmail.com to chat further.

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