Wednesday, 23 December 2009


As you may remember, next year I'm starting Project 24. Not only am I 24 myself at the moment, but that is the number of books I'm intending to buy (for myself, anyway) in 2010. So, before privations set in, my friend Lorna, my brother Colin, and I all went off to Hay-on-Wye for a day's book buying. It's a three hour drive from here (if you're still a fairly nervous driver in the dark, like I am) which left us with 4.5 hours book shopping in Hay - in which time we managed seven shops. Lorna, believe it or not, spends even longer in a bookshop than I do - which makes her the perfect person to take. Colin, wisely, abandoned us as soon as we got there. Not for him the hours looking at every book in the shop.

I realise that I've not explained what Hay-on-Wye is, for the uninitiated - it's a town filled with secondhand bookshops. Yes, filled. We went to seven, but I believe there are over thirty. Some specialist, some general, some tiny, some huge - but something of Elysium for book-lovers. I came away with 15 books, but three of those are presents for other people, so I won't include them in this list...

The Present and the Past - Ivy Compton-Burnett
A God & His Gifts - Ivy Compton-Burnett

Daughters and Sons - Ivy Compton-Burnett

Secrets of a Woman's Heart: The Later Life of ICB - Hilary Spurling

As you can tell, the trip was quite a successful one, as regards ICB. And these books actually all came from different shops. Luckily I had my notecards with me, listing every book that I own, so I didn't get any duplicate ICBs. As I've said before about her, I need to ration her novels out - now I have enough to keep my going for a few years at least.

The Love-Child - Edith Olivier
The Seraphim Room - Edith Olivier

Yes, I do have the Virago edition of The Love-Child. Two, in fact. But this was a lovely 1927 edition, and... well, I shan't bother defending myself. People are in two firm categories when it comes to buying books you already own. Either they find the idea so ridiculous that no amount of rhetoric will persuade them otherwise, or it seems so natural a thing to do that no explanation is necessary.
And then, having seen The Love-Child, I came upon The Seraphim Room. I don't know about you, but when I'm making special trips to book-towns or big bookshops, I wait for the moment which makes the journey special and memorable. The discovery of a book which will make the excursion worthwhile (above and beyond its intrinsic fun) - and this book was it. I've wanted to buy it before, and not been able to find a copy online for less than £70. But this one accompanied me home, having set me back... £4! Hurrah and huzzah!

The Curate's Wife - EH Young
Though I've still not read anything by EH Young, I am now the proud owner of five of her novels.

Sing Me Who You Are - Elizabeth Berridge
I know her as the Persephone author of Tell It To A Stranger - this little novel looked intriguing.

The Debt to Pleasure - John Lanchester
Book Group is reading this later in the year, so I thought I'd pick it up whilst I saw it.

Rose Macaulay - Constance Babbington-Smith
A biography to accompany one of my 'discoveries' of 2009 (I am aware that everyone else discovered her before me, but still...)

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper - Harriet Scott Chessman
Lynne (from dovegreyreader) lent this to me years ago, and I've been keeping an eye out for a cheapish copy ever since. In fact I saw half a dozen copies in Hay - like waiting for a bus, I suppose.

Prince - Ib Michael
I'm keen to read more Scandinavian literature, so I pored over the Scandinavian section of the Hay Cinema Bookshop (which is one of my favourites). This Danish novel, subtitled 'a novel of icebergs and amber', looks very atmospheric and perfect for a cold winter evening. And trust me, it's pretty cold here in Somerset at the moment...

As always, I welcome and cherish comments on recent purchases - do feel free. I'm tentatively planning a visit to the Bookbarn before the end of the year, so these couple of weeks are the book equivalent of a huge feast before going on a diet.


  1. What a wonderful post. Do please tell what the Bookbarn is. I loved this post so much I read it aloud to my husband. I want to go to a "Booktown!" If we have one on this side of the pond, it must be somewhere in the northeast far away from me. Although I hear Seattle, in the other direction, may have something like.

    I recently re-watched the movie 84 Charing Cross Road, and I must say that you reminded me of Frank Doel out on a quest for the perfect book. I'm with you in the "no explanation necessary" camp of duplicating books - esp. for a nice edition.

    Merry Christmas to you and happy book binging before the New Year!
    Susan in Texas

  2. No explanation is required for the "Cat who never buys" either, however I'd then ditch the other edition (I don't mean throw it away of course!). Will you?

  3. Ah, I won't, because the other one has a great introduction by Hermione Lee! And my third copy of it (also Virago) is currently being borrowed. When that comes back, I daresay it will be given away...

  4. And thank you Susan, what a lovely comment! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas too.

    The Bookbarn is in North Somerset - it used to be a huge warehouse of books to browse, the biggest in the UK; now they have more online, and fewer through which to browse... but still rather larger than your average bookshop.

  5. I was in Bookbarn just before Christmas and, wow, if this is less books to browse then God knows what it was like before - I reckon close to half a MILLION if not more are in their member's warehouse (you join on the day and it's free). And if you can't find what you're looking for (said the nice lady on the desk) then you can always search the internet warehouse (with another couple of million books) and ask them to go and get the book. we loved this place and will be back in the new year.

  6. Someday, I hope to visit here!

  7. The Bookbarn sounds like a little slice of heaven. I'm going to add it to my list of places to visit if I ever get over there!
    Thanks so much,
    Susan in TX

  8. Hay-on-Wye sounds like heaven! Wish there was something like that around here.

    Wishing you luck on the 24 purchases next year! :D

  9. What a fabulous haul. I am planning a final big excursion next week and may try and hit that Notting Hill Shop again. I would like to get some ICB as I do so want to try her and you have raved about her.

    With my book buying ban plan for 2010 Hay on Wye may have to wait until 2011 for a visit from me! I would go crazy there by the sounds of it!

    Have a fab Christmas!!!!

  10. Good luck on sticking to your project! It looks like you've acquired some nice titles to tide you over in the meantime. I'd love to visit Hay sometime! I really liked the Mary Cassatt book by the way.

    Have a Merry Christmas!

  11. Simon, do you know the book Sixpence House by Paul Collins? Collins moves from San Francisco t0 Hay-on-Wye and lives for a year with his wife and child in a crumbling house. He eventually gets a job at a REALLY MESSY used bookstore, because he can't stand the mess.

    Collins is an American (with British parents, I think) and I don't know if this book was ever published in the UK. But if you haven't read it, you'd probably like it!

  12. I am so envious. I have been wanting to make a pilgrimage to Hay-on-Wye for years. More stories like this please.

  13. If your looking for places to stay near hay-on-wye. I recommend Yewtrees Cottage, its a lovely traditional cottage set just outside of Hay on the BlackMountain.


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