The King is dead
September 4, 2019 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Richard Booth, who turned the small Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye into the world's largest used bookstore, has died at 80.
posted by Chrysostom (21 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This post makes me sincerely wish I still read paper books so I could go to this place full of paper books and touch them all.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:35 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have been to Hay-on-Wye. It rained a lot and there were a lot of bookstores.

That's all I remember.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:38 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been there twice, it's pretty cool.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:39 PM on September 4, 2019

Another chapter over, long live the next chapter.
I will not, I cannot visit a place like this, ever.
posted by cenoxo at 1:40 PM on September 4, 2019


I too could never go there, lest the foxing spores in the stacks cause me to pupate in some forgotten corner and I'd burst out, fully formed, as the wingèd leader of the Book of the Moth Club cult.
posted by scruss at 2:14 PM on September 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

His cabinet meetings would be held once a month, invariably in a pub; the passage of meetings was decided by the turn of a board game-style wheel. Options included “have a drink”, “defer to next session” and “chop off her head”. He also ran a not-so-secret local intelligence agency, known as C.I.Hay.

He sounds wonderful.
posted by chavenet at 2:17 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

posted by rhizome at 2:19 PM on September 4, 2019


Tell me, is there a shop catering to speculative fiction? An entry on my travel list hangs on the answer.
posted by Ber at 2:55 PM on September 4, 2019

. Long live the king.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 3:05 PM on September 4, 2019

Let me recommend Paul Collins's Sixpence House: Lost In A Town Of Books, a memoir about living, working (for Richard Booth), and trying to buy a house in Hay-on-Wye. It's quirky, funny, and probably only interesting to someone who already loves the idea of Hay or is considering owning a bookshop.

One thing Collins reveals is that a lot of Booth's business, and Hay-on-Wye's book market in general, is dealing with the enormous quantity of unwanted cast-offs from the British book industry. If you've manufactured tens of thousands of opportunistic photo books about the Royal Wedding and most of them didn't sell, you ship them to Hay -- Richard will take them off your hands. Bookshops there are not about rare volumes or carefully curated selections so much as they are about books en masse.

Reading Sixpence House cured me of my resistance to throwing books away. There's ten thousand more where that one came from! But there will only ever be one Richard Booth.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:11 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Agreed, Sixpence House was charming.

I don't recall there being an SF/F specialty shop, but as I recall, Booth's flagship shop had a very large SF/F section in the basement.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:24 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

One of the most eye-opening bits of Sixpence House is just how different it is to purchase a home in the UK vs buying a home in the US. Your pub-turned-house has massive problems in the basement? You don't have to disclose that at all.

Definitely some place I need to visit at some point, sorry I can no longer meet the architect.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:55 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've been to Hay-on-Wye a few times (some for the Hay Festival, some just because). It is just this side of too twee, and is right on the equally-wonderful Offa's Dyke path. (I did a magical golden-hour ramble there once, when I was desperately trying to escape my mother.) The bookshops are great! I got a first edition of Gaudy Night at the one that specializes in mysteries. I've also picked up plenty of antiquarian weirdnesses for a song, books I may never get all the way through, but which I keep because I love them, and I love how I got them.
(Also Henry Winkler once walked past me at Hay Festival. He is surprisingly short.)
I had mixed experiences at the Hay Festival, but I do miss it, and the town. Really looking forward to reading Sixpence House, many thanks for that Harvey Kilobit.
posted by kalimac at 4:58 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Tell me, is there a shop catering to speculative fiction? An entry on my travel list hangs on the answer.

I was there a few weeks ago - no dedicated SF/F, but a few of the shops had decent sections. I was struck by the lack of occult/UFO books, but I think they are fading from most bookstores. I did splurge on a Lovecraft book, though, so I wasn't looking too hard to spend more cash.

If you do go, we're happy to recommend a few places (and dis-recommend a particular, wasp-infested B&B).
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:59 PM on September 4, 2019

He sounds like a real character! I feel like anyone who would gravitate to a place described as a "massive, disorganized library" is my kind of person.

I only heard about Hay-on-Wye last year, when we were going to be in England. I was pushing hard for us to go, but it would have been hard, and then plans changed anyway. I'm unlikely to ever make it at this point, but as a lifelong patron of used book stores, it's nice to know a place like that exists. I almost think I might like knowing about it more than actually being there... unless it turns out there's a store with an excellent selection of ghost stories.

It is a shame that occult sections seem to be fading from so many bookstores! One of the few things I truly live for is the obscure or bizarre occult book I occasionally stumble across.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 6:15 PM on September 4, 2019

. I so enjoyed our visit to Hay-on-Wye last month (was there with robocop_is_bleeding). A town of books! What an idea, thank you Richard Booth.

I got lost trying to find Booth's bookshop, dragged our son around town making the exact wrong turns at every corner, until we came close to wandering out of Wales entirely back into England. We eventually found Booth's (and then Murder & Mayhem). Very charming town, I hope to go back some day.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 7:08 PM on September 4, 2019

We used to be regulars at Murder & Mayhem. The cafe at Booth's bookstore, by the way, has the most amazing Welsh rarebit.

I still recall that one of the Princes banned Kindles.

In any case, the King is dead. Long live the Queen!
posted by vacapinta at 12:59 AM on September 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by filtergik at 3:11 AM on September 5, 2019

posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 4:53 PM on September 5, 2019

posted by doctornemo at 6:57 PM on September 5, 2019

Got beaten to the Paul Collins recommendation, but yeah, what those guys said.

As an aside, go find anything Paul Collins has written and make yourself happy. (particularly including Banvard's Folly, at least until you get to The Murder of the Century.)
posted by hearthpig at 8:39 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

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