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The Bookshops Of Hay-On-Wye

Hay-on-Wye is called the town of books for good reason – there are more bookshops than you can possibly visit unless you don’t intend on browsing and haven’t come for the festival. Considering the amount of choice there is, it makes sense to go in with a plan. During my downtime at last year’s festival, I had a mooch around the streets to see what was on offer. Here are five of the best stores:

A photograph of The Addyman Annexe

The Addyman Annexe: 27 Castle Street
Monday – Saturday: 10:00-17:30
Sunday: 10:30-17:30

There are two Addyman locations; this is the largest and stands on the main street you walk down from the festival site. The Annexe sells a lot of literary-related items; last year Taffywood Books mugs jostled for space on a windowsill with old orange Penguin Classics. A special festival section for children’s books took a little space. The shop sells a good range of both new and second hand books and is vibrant in its colour. Don’t miss the upper floor; the stairs are against the wall by the tall yellow shelves in the back room.

A photograph of Broad Street Book Centre

Broad Street Book Centre: 6 Broad Street
Open all week: 10:30-17:00

Situated across the street and a little further down the road from The Granary (a cafe you will come most definitely come across or hear about), is the Broad Street Book Centre. A fantastic rabbit warren of a store, just when you think you’ve reached the end it goes on further, with more books than you’d ever have thought possible from outside. The books are solely second hand and the variety spans all ages and categories, older books and new, from fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Stacked away in a tiny space towards the back is a pretty marvelous selection of very old books, some popular selections, others you may never have heard of but want to buy nonetheless.

A photograph of Murder And Mayhem

Murder And Mayhem: 5 Lion Street
Monday-Saturday: 10:30-17:30
Open some Sundays

This shop does what it says on the tin, except for the murder part! Whilst other shops have books on various surfaces, Murder And Mayhem takes it a literal step further with piles of glorious Allison & Busby mystery classics sat against the walls of the stairs. It’s worth the careful journey north as the room at the top is rather beautiful in its extreme bookish messiness. Back on the ground floor and the room you first enter into is full of wonderful publisher-specific piles. A great many Penguin Classics fight for space along the left wall, hoping you won’t miss them in this unusual arrangement where there are so many more books equally capable of grabbing the collector’s attention.

A photograph of The Poetry Bookshop

The Poetry Bookshop: The Pavement, Lion Street
Monday-Saturday: 11:00-17:00
Open some Sundays from 12:00

At the end of a tiny street away from the hustle and bustle of the town (at least when the festival is on) sits The Poetry Bookshop, in a detached building. A fair space, there are lots of shelves here and everything is carefully categorised. There are also lots of biographies of poets, compilations of literary magazines content, and books full of interviews. A selection of second-hand fiction rounds it off.

A photograph of Richard Booth's

Richard Booth’s: 44 Lion Street
Monday-Saturday: 9:30-17:30
Sunday: 10:30-17:00
Tuesday-Saturday: 9:30-4:30
Sunday: 10:30-3:30
Last orders are 30 minutes before closing

Richard Booth’s is one you can’t miss: nestled between others in its terrace, the exterior nevertheless stands out, its design ensuring your interest. At its entrance – very grand, all wood and lovely low ceilings, is the fiction, with a lot of books by authors in attendance at the festival. Awesome stationary – on this occasion sheets of wrapping paper with recipes printed on them – sat beside the counter. It’s worth walking on towards the back – a stunning staircase runs from the centre of the floor up to the new level where a large number of shelves are arranged much like a library. The selection is extensive. Sofas at the end of the main aisle, with plenty of light from the back and above in the roof make for an atmosphere place to read your new purchases. Crime books can be found in the basement.

In addition to a bookshop, Richard Booth’s own a cinema on Brook Street that shows a range of films – many based on books (the new adaptation of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is currently one of those on offer. I’m so glad they kept the full title!)

When I first walked round the bookshops and took my notes, I envisaged writing about them soon afterwards, partly because of the current climate of closures. I wasn’t able to write in time and, deciding to keep it back until the festival tents were up once again, I am delighted to say that all of the shops I visited – ten in total – are still there. Long may it remain the case.

The Use Of ‘Ardent’ In Three Classical Novels

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

A drawing of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra

I’ve been reading fiction from the 1700s for a few months now – first Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline and then Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote – and every time the adjective ‘ardent’ is used, my mind goes back to the famous scene from Pride And Prejudice. Or, more specifically, Colin Firth’s Darcy bursting into the room to say the adverb version of the word to Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzie Bennet.

The word is used incredibly often in these two books, and having never to my knowledge encountered it outside of old works of fiction, I thought I’d look into it. And perhaps add it to my vocabulary for a short time; that sort of thing can be, to use a phrase going out of fashion, jolly good fun.

The origins are 1300s and Latin (ārdent, from ārdēns, ‘to burn’). It replaced the Middle English ‘ardant’. I don’t suppose the list below is particularly needed – ‘ardent’ is one of those words where the meaning is quite obvious – but in order to fully account for it, here is the list of meanings, from

  1. having, expressive of, or characterized by intense feeling; passionate; fervent: an ardent vow; ardent love.
  2. intensely devoted, eager, or enthusiastic; zealous: An ardent theatergoer. An ardent student of French history.
  3. vehement; fierce: They were frightened by his ardent, burning eyes.
  4. burning, fiery, or hot: The ardent core of a star.

I think it’s fair to say Austen, and Firth, were looking to use them all.

To my knowledge we don’t really use ‘ardent’ any more; as I said, I’ve never heard it outside of older fiction (or, adaptations of those books), but that’s a very subjective statement, so I looked it up. Using the information I had – that it seemed to be very much in favour in the 1700s – 1750s-80s, if we look at the publishing dates of Emmeline and The Female Quixote – as well as Pride And Prejudice‘s 1813, I found a Google application that produces charts for words. Here we have ‘ardent’ used far more than ‘ardently’ (to be expected) peaking twice, in 1801 and again in 1835 before decreasing first slowly to 1850 and then drops steadily over time. The pretty fast increase from the early 1700s until that first peak aligns with the mid-1700s.

Dates to be considered: 1752 (Charlotte Lennox), 1788 (Charlotte Smith), 1813 (Jane Austen).

(Usage in the two centuries before this was very hit and miss. The graph suggested the early Tudors weren’t too keen for what appears to be a new word, and the late Tudors and Stuarts couldn’t make up their minds whether to use it or not.)

Looking at ‘ardent’ led to only a short bout of research, as I thought it would – I was looking at something particular, after all – but it’s nevertheless been fascinating. The word itself, and the other possibilities for study I’ve picked up from these two 1700s novels are interesting, which is quite at odds with the reading experience itself – poignant but poorly executed in Smith’s case, and highly frivolous and seemingly simple in Lennox’s case.

What are your favourite rarely-now-used words?

Not Knowing Everything, And Not Knowing What We Don’t Know

A photograph of the His Dark Materials trilogy

Going back to the Hunger Games example, if you didn’t know that “Panem” came from the Latin phrase “Panem et Circenses” which means “Bread and Circuses,” would you look it up?

This fact was included in a very thoughtful article on BookRiot about cultural literacy. We can’t know everything and we don’t know what we don’t know. This is possibly my biggest fear when reading, and particularly when reading knowing I’ll be reviewing the book, which is about 90% of the time.

The thought that we can’t know everything matches well with my previous post on reading the reference material first. (On that note I should say I chose to start The Female Quixote without looking at the Cervantes. So far, so good – knowing the basics of the earlier text, at 10% read, is all that’s needed.) Unless you have an inordinately large amount of time, and even if you do, knowing everything that is included or referred to by a book is an impossible undertaking. You’d have to find out what you needed to know. You’d need to figure this out for a potential few or several hundred pages worth of text. And you’d need to do this for the referenced books too. I’m starting to get a dizzy as I did as a child when someone told me that heaven is forever and ever (and ever and ever…)

So, we don’t know what we don’t know – my biggest literary fear has got me on occasion; it happens less the older I get and thus the more I realise it’s good to be cautious. When it comes to not getting something in contemporary literary fiction, for example (I think contemporary literary fiction is the least likely place for it) it’s not too bad – you can generally get away with saying ‘I didn’t get this book’, even if you don’t tell others. But for a lot of books it’s very difficult to get around and it can make you feel silly for not knowing. Looking silly isn’t so bad, but making a mistake in, say, a review, can be awful, or at least feel so. At least in the example mentioned in the article, it’s not such a problem. Knowing about Panem might give you a chuckle, a hint of the author’s thoughts very early on, but otherwise it won’t effect your reading too much.

Consider Shakespeare for a moment. When he wrote, he used Greek allusions as if they were pop culture references. And half of the actual pop culture references we still don’t get in Shakespeare’s plays unless we’re scholars of the time period. These are things that go over our heads. They are also things that don’t negate from our reading pleasure and understanding today.

Some books, and other media, if we consider Shakespeare, are written for certain audiences – you can’t expect to understand a book that is on a subject you don’t know about unless it’s a textbook and a beginner’s one at that. This, for me, is where this subject blends into the one about including pop culture in books – the way books will be outdated soon if an author uses things like social media, for example; a person in the future might know or be able to find out what it is but that distinct recognition, relation to it, won’t be there. The reader will, by no fault of their own, lack a particular sort of empathy that might impede their reading of the book. (This is why I’ve not read many books that rely on digital media to tell their story.)

It is in many ways a scary subject – far from the be all, end all, but in context it can make you think twice, and once you’ve discovered one missing link, you’ll spend the rest of the book wondering what else you’re missing.

Do you have this fear? How do you deal with it?

Working Through Inexperience, Getting To The Other Side

A photograph of Hever Castle's lake. A few row boats sit on the water.

I believe that experience is important, and that more life experience, reading experience, and writing experience are going to make you a better writer. Oddly, though, writers don’t talk a lot about this kind of progress. I’ve heard lots of writers say that “you can’t teach writing” — i.e., you’ve either got it or you don’t. This seems to be based on an assumption that writing ability is something static and unchanging, like a gene. Some writers, perhaps, don’t want to admit that writing can be taught (which is to say, that writing can be learned), because admitting that you can get better at writing means admitting there was a time when you weren’t a great writer. — Electric Literature: What Should I Do If I’m Ashamed Of My Published Work?

Something that occurred to me recently is that I’ve been comparing and contrasting books in my reviews and other posts as I wanted to when I first started blogging. I remember reading other blogs and wishing I could write with the knowledge those bloggers did, recognising the gap between my literary experience and theirs. This made me think of the thought I had about my reviews back then, that knowing experience is the key; my reviews were necessarily rudimentary and I thought I should really wait some time before writing.

It’s a fair thought to have and in a small way I stand by it – my first reviews weren’t very good and there’s a definite change over time that’s not linked to conscious decision. I reckon most bloggers feel similarly; but if I hadn’t reviewed back then, whilst I might have gained the reading experience over time, the putting into words would’ve taken a lot longer. The ‘doing’ aspect of progressing is just as important as the learning and mental improvement.

Because that’s the thing about improving over time – you want to try to be good at something from the start but you have to acknowledge that at the start especially, done is better than perfect and you will at some point look back and feel a bit embarrassed at your first attempts even if others say they were good; own worse critic and so on. I relate very much to those bloggers who delete their old posts even though I’d be reluctant to do that myself; no matter what the reason for being less happy with your old work, at some level there’s the knowledge that you do things much better nowadays and aren’t quite who you were then.

I’ve had a few interests in my life where more experience wouldn’t have an effect so I’m happy seeing the changes in reading and blogging, and due to this I’m more aware of smaller changes in newer interests, too.

What hobbies/academic choices/career-related-things have you worked through to get to that other side, where was your starting point, and how was the journey?

Reading With The Wrong Image In Mind

A photograph of a note pad with pens resting on it. The notepad is open and has a big question mark drawn on the page

Too often I’ve found I’m thinking of something visually different to what the author was intending me to think.

I wouldn’t call it a problem – except perhaps if you’re visualising a human when they are actually a dragon… which is unlikely to happen unless the character is called Eustace Scrubb. But it can be irritating and a minor issue. There have been occasions where I’ve had to actively rethink a person’s looks because they’re important to the plot and I haven’t added them into my picture.

This seems generally caused by a lack of description in the book; you only find out your picture is wrong when new information comes to light. The information tends to come at least half-way through the book when it really should have been in the first few pages. For all the bad aspects of Fifty Shades Of Grey, it can’t be said that E L James didn’t give the reader a good picture of Anna from the start, even if it was made easier by stereotyping and the prior existence of Bella Swan.

When new information comes to light I’m afraid I tend to acknowledge it and then default to the image I had created; I’ll rethink looks if needed but I often just set up a second version of the character so that the new one sort of tags along with the original. I also do it with locations, buildings, landscapes.

I don’t like to see the film before reading the book but if the book lacks description, visualising the choices made for the film helps a great deal.

There are times, I find, when I have a different picture regardless of how much description there – and while I’m hoping some of you will say you have had trouble with the lack of description aspect of this post, I’m absolutely counting on camaraderie for the following: where you have had a different experience of what the author is talking about or you just can’t get used to the idea of the author’s description of someone called Joe Bloggs when there is someone in your life called Joe Bloggs who looks completely different. (I remember Roald Dahl’s worship of aniseed in Boy and not at all understanding it. I remember reading a book about a girl called Elizabeth and finding it impossible not to see the girl who would spout untruths.)

The last point, there’s no getting away from; it will always happen. But the lack of description… it seems to be getting better on the whole in new books, but it’s still not quite there yet. I suppose it’s all too easy to have a visual in mind, get used to it, and forget that others would need more description for something they might think obvious. As I found earlier this week, it’s hard enough getting the spelling of a headline correct when it’s right in the middle of a poster.

When was the last time you had to correct the image in your head and were you able to correct it for the rest of the book?


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