Posted by: bluesyemre | May 1, 2018

10 of the world’s best #book towns


Long read … running for 1.5km, Kolkata’s secondhand book market is the largest in the world. Photograph: Steve Beckett/PR

Book towns started with Hay-on-Wye; now there are communities around the world that celebrate the written word. In this extract from a new book, the author picks 10 to leaf through – and visit


Bellprat, Catalonia, Spain

In many ways, this small village is the ideal book town. It is in a beautiful rural setting in Catalonia’s Anoia region, yet only 90km from Barcelona. It has an appealing medieval centre and its population is enthusiastic about throwing open its doors to book-loving visitors. Bellprat is also the first book town in Catalonia (the second in Spain, after Urueña).



Fontenoy-la-Joûte, France

Before it became a book town Fontenoy-la-Joûte, 100km west of Strasbourg, had no connection with the literary world and indeed few book businesses of any kind. It set up Les Amis du Livre, with the aim of promoting reading and writing in 1994. The book town was officially inaugurated two years later, thanks to the efforts of a small band of enthusiasts, including France’s former agriculture minister, François Guillaume, and the village mayor, Jean-Marie Vanot.

Eighteen businesses opened in April 1996, with bookshops planning to open at weekends and holidays, and more frequently during the summer. Within four years the project had renovated 24 buildings for new use. At its height there were 23 booksellers in the village and its first book fair, in September 1994, attracted around 11,000 visitors, as well as booksellers from France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

There are still 10 bookshops and a calligraphy studio – L’encre et l’Image on Rue Saint-Pierre – and Fontenoy attracts peripatetic art festivals such as Apprentiss’ART, which in 2016 put on a display of literary origami. It has also held an annual writing contest for the past two decades, with the winning entries published in a short book.



Gold Cities, California, US

The Gold Cities Book Town in California was set up in 1997 – again inspired by a trip to Hay-on-Wye – largely by local book folk Gary Stollery and John Hardy. It actually covered two main locations, Grass Valley and (four miles to the north) Nevada City, with satellite sellers in nearby Penn Valley, North San Juan and Lake of the Pines, and at its peak had more than 30 bookshops.

Despite this promising start, and the launch of an annual Gold Rush Book Fair, bookshop numbers have declined. However, in Nevada City, Stollery still runs a bookshop, Toad Hall Books (North Pine Street), with his wife Clarinda, while Hardy Books, open by appointment only, still specialises in western Americana and all things Californian, much of which is not included in its online inventory.

Jenny’s Paper & Ink Books (on Joerschke Drive in nearby Grass Valley) offers preowned delights, and at the other end of town is Booktown Books, a co-operative established by a group of dealers in 1998. The project has gradually expanded, and since 2005 has operated from a substantial two-storey building. Each bookseller has their own booth: Bud Plant and Hutchison Books, for example, specialise in fine illustrated and children’s books in Booths 8 and 10. Main Street Antiques & Books has a booth here, as well as a shop in Nevada City.



Lilleputthammer, Norway

All book towns sell children’s books, and some booksellers focus entirely on titles for young people, but there is only one children’s book town – Lilleputthammer in Norway. Lilleputthammer is a small adventure park for families. The main section is a miniature copy of the main street in the city of Lillehammer, Storgata, with all the houses built as they looked in the 1930s but at a quarter size. There are more than 40 shops, two hotels, three cafes, two bakeries, a police station and a cinema. Within this is the Children’s City of Books – six houses devoted entirely to books.

“We have about 15,000 books in different genres, all for children,” says Cathrine Wilhelmsen, its deputy manager. “The books are divided into different houses according to the ages of the readers and then again into categories such as animals, fairytales, environmental protection, cowboys, crime, nature and outdoor living. The houses are When Mum and Dad Were Young (books written between 1900 and 1970), Picture Book House, Youth Literature, Mysteries and Crime, The Comics House, and The House of Facts. We also have a bookshop with new books, stationery, art and fun stuff.”



Biblo Tøyen, Oslo

This children-only library is aimed at 10-15 year olds; adults are not allowed in and must wait outside for their offspring to emerge. The library is run along normal lines, with library cards for borrowing books, and caters particularly for children. after the school day is over.

The layout and decor are anything but normal, though. After consulting young readers in focus groups, the designers have installed a Volvo truck with a functional kitchen in the back (the library also runs activities including cookery courses) and a reading sofa under the bonnet. Library users can also enjoy their books in a ski-lift gondola hanging from the ceiling, a converted tuk-tuk, a barber’s chair, or numerous wheelbarrows. Books are arranged by themes, which means no book has a fixed location. At night, a dedicated book drone flies around the library to scan and update the books’ positions.



Montereggio, Italy

The history of bookselling in the hilltop village of Montereggio in Tuscany goes back centuries. Indeed, the first printing press was operated in the town by Jacopo da Fivizzano in 1471 and the first bookshop was opened there in the late 1490s. Over the next 100 years, local residents – sometimes entire families – began to operate as itinerant booksellers, toting huge wicker baskets of books around the fairs and markets of central and northern Italy.



Óbidos, Portugal

Óbidos is a beautiful, historic hilltop town with a wall that encloses a compact medieval centre filled with cobbled streets and traditional houses. The town – just over an hour north of Lisbon – was previously best-known for its annual chocolate festival and as the home of the cherry-based liqueur, ginjinha. Then José Pinho, owner of Lisbon bookshop Ler Devagar (Read Slowly), had the idea to change Óbidos into a book town.

Óbidos stands out from most other book towns in that it didn’t open new bookshops; many stores have simply added bookselling to their business. So, the local art galleries sell art books, the Óbidos organic market has shelves of cookbooks behind its fresh fruit and vegetables, and the museums stock history, interior design and heritage titles, according to their individual focus.

The Literary Man hotel on Rua Dom João de Ornelas (doubles from €85 room only) is run by the town’s former mayor, Telmo Faria, and has merged accommodation and literature particularly well. Around 50,000 books are for sale, spread around the 30-bedroom property. Some books are in Portuguese but most in English, with an emphasis on Penguin, Pelican and Pan Books.



Paju, South Korea

Paju Book City stands alone among members of the International Organisation of Book Towns in that while it has bookshops, book cafes and publishers, it has nothing else. Every single building and person here is dedicated to making, publishing, selling and promoting Korean books.

It is also in the most unlikely setting of any book town: a reclaimed marshy flood plain near the Demilitarized Zone, just half a dozen miles from the border with North Korea. Indeed, its location was a guiding principle by the founding publishers, who wanted to emphasise the importance of the common good above self-interest. While at its heart was a commitment to print, the plan was to build somewhere as an antidote to the perceived over-development of Seoul.

Since 1989, major international architects and designers have been turning Paju into a unique site. There is a traditional Korean hanok house at its centre, a symbol of the goal to ensure Paju is in harmony with its surroundings. It has been criticised as a slightly sterile industrial park but others have applauded its quiet, tree-lined, largely traffic-free streets dotted with wooden benches, and its unusual features, such as the miniature railway which runs around the children’s bookshop Alice’s House.



Torup, Denmark

Torup is unusual even for a book town. There are two parts to the Danish community of around 300 residents: the old part (a village since the 11th century); and a new zone that, since the 1990s, has been home to an eco-village called Økosamfundet Dyssekilde.

The original idea behind Økosamfundet Dyssekilde was to create a vegetarian, spiritual and humane village, though the focus is now more on a shared foundation of values than a single idea. The village is divided into six semi-autonomous groups who are responsible for the outdoor area between the homes and who manage their own budgets and social events.

University lecturer and resident Peter Plant, now the book town’s chairman, heard a radio programme about Fjærland, a book town in Norway and believed it would be a good fit for Torup. There was then a visit to Tvedestrand, also in Norway, and Torup bogby (Danish for book town) was set up in 2006, with 2,000 people attending its first summer festival.



Bredevoort, Netherlands

Bredevoort is in the Netherlands’ Aalten region, close to the border with Germany. It became a book town in 2003 and at its height had around 30 bookshops and book-related businesses. It was a founding member of the International Organisation of Book Towns. Today there are just half of that number.

Local historian and teacher Henk Ruessink was instrumental in getting the book town off the ground, following a major restoration of Bredevoort’s medieval centre. Inspired by a trip to Hay-on-Wye, and with the backing of local authorities, he contacted hundreds of booksellers in Germany and the Netherlands and held a special open day to sell the concept.

As well as their general stock, most of the bookshops also specialise. The English Bookshop in history, English literature and illustrated books; Scrinium in Greek and Latin; The Old Motor Bookshop in car and tractor books and Boek en Zo in mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, medicine and biology.



College Street, Kolkata

Towards the end of the 18th century, Kolkata became a major printing centre, thanks to the East India Company, which built up the industry for commercial reasons. It has retained that pedigree, and the International Kolkata Book Fair, established in 1976, is now the world’s biggest book fair for the general public.

Though not an actual town, College Street, in the northern, older part of the city has turned itself into a haven of bookselling. Known locally as Boi Para (Colony of Books), it is regarded as the largest secondhand book market in the world. Around 1.5km long, and running from Mahatma Gandhi Road to Ganesh Chandra Avenue, it is home to a long stretch of street stalls, traditional bookshops, publishers, and educational institutions.

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