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Posts Tagged ‘book town’

01-wigtown

Photo: Celeste Noche
Charming Wigtown, Scotland, is famous as a “book town.”

Do you remember reading my post about Alex Johnson’s survey of “book towns,” small locales with numerous emporiums for buying books? Well, here’s another angle from the New York Times. It describes how a book critic got a taste of running a bookstore in one of the better known book towns.

Dwight Garner reports, “Recently, if only for a day, I had a bookstore in Scotland. …

“It is worth getting to Wigtown, population 1,000. [It] is lush and green and smells of the nearby sea. It is Scotland’s national book town, its Hay-on-Wye. With a dozen used bookstores tucked into its small downtown, it is a literary traveler’s Elysium.

“Best of all, Wigtown offers a literary experience unlike any other I’m aware of. In town there is a good used bookstore called the Open Book, with an apartment up above, that’s rentable by the week. Once you move in, the shop is yours to run as you see fit.

“I was handed the keys and a cash box. I was told I could reshelve and redecorate. I could invite Elena Ferrante and Thomas Pynchon to speak, and Sly Stone to play, if I could find them.

“The Open Book is run by a nonprofit group. It has touched a chord with so many people, from every continent, that it’s booked through 2021, which is as far as Airbnb will take reservations. There’s a waiting list after that. I managed to wedge myself in for a single night by begging and whining. …

“My first task as proprietor of the Open Book was one I hadn’t anticipated. What to write on the slate sandwich board that sits out front?

“A favorite exhortation came to mind. With chalk I scrawled: ‘Read at whim! Read at whim! — Randall Jarrell.’ For the opposite side, after a bit of puzzling, and given my physical and mental state, I shakily wrote: ‘Of course it’s all right for librarians to smell of drink. — Barbara Pym.’ I set my board outside.

“It was time to get a look around. The Open Book is not entirely my kind of used bookstore in that its literature section is modest, dwarfed by the sections for miscellaneous subjects like birds and Scotland and garden design. But there was a nice shelf of Penguins under the register. …

“I’ve worked in many bookstores in my life, and I hadn’t realized how much I missed them. It’s surprising what you learn, as if by osmosis, a daily mental steeping, about every possible subject.

“Often you learn more than you want to know, when people bring to the register books about hemorrhoid care, loneliness or coping with the death of a child. To this day, when a young person asks me for advice about finding employment in the word business, I say (after telling them to read like lunatics): Work in a bookstore if you can find one, or a library, all through high school and college. …

“A young couple, Beth Porter and Ben Please, arrived with their infant daughter, Molly. They had musical instruments in tow: Beth, a cello; Ben, a ukulele; Molly, a toy glockenspiel.

“Porter and Please are the core members of the Bookshop Band. They write songs inspired by books and play them in bookstores. I’d met them the night before at [large-bookshop proprietor Shaun] Bythell’s apartment, which is above his store. They’d decided to welcome me to Wigtown by performing an impromptu concert.

“The Bookshop Band is not just good but achingly good — listen to its soulful lament ‘Accidents and Pretty Girls,’ based on Ned Beauman’s novel ‘The Teleportation Accident’ — and it played a resonant 20-minute set for me and a few lucky droppers-in.”

More about the band and the temporary-shop-owner experience at the New York Times, here, where you can also enjoy some delightful photos. For an overview of Wigtown shops, check this out, too.

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