Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The UK's largest second hand bookstore

‘I have a treat for you,’ said good friend C, when I travelled across the country to see her shortly before Christmas. ‘You’ll like it’, she added. ‘It involves books.’

To be precise, it involved more books than you can shake a stick at.*

This was no mere bookstore. It was instead a Giant Warehouse Stacked to the Sky. The sheer amount of books actually reduced me to round-eyed silence, and for a good few moments all I could do was pathetically poke book spines with my gloved finger, turning around every so often to look at Good Friend C with an expression hovering somewhere between dumb gratitude and awed wonder.

Books! Thousands upon thousands of books!

The next second I was gone. The last Good Friend C saw of me for at least two hours was my woolly hat disappearing around a stack of shelves.

I soon adopted the walk of the professional consummate book scanner (slow pace forward, head-at-slant, eyes flickering over book spines). Happily I began to accumulate treasure. A 1965 edition of Charles Webb’s The Graduate? Yes please. P. G. Wodehouse’s Summer Lightning? I thank you. Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange with that iconic graphic cover image? Yup yup.

Occasionally I’d bump into another book scanner; we’d apologise in hushed tones and continue on our way. And so I wound deeper and deeper into the warehouse, following shelves and stacks and piles and papers, until I came to the wild card of the warehouse: The unclassified section. ‘These books haven’t been sorted!’ the sign gleefully said, suggesting untold literary jewels might be hidden within the million copies of Giles, pet care annuals from the 1970s**, and instruction manuals for microwaves.

The way ahead looked dark and dusty. I texted good friend C to check she hadn’t expired of boredom but she was comfy in the coffee area way back at base camp. So I wrapped my scarf around me, and scurried in.

(You might get the impression from the gloves, hat and scarf that the warehouse was a little chilly. Don’t be misled. That warehouse was frickin’ freezing. I could see my breath in those lost back alleys of Unclassified.)

After a while even I had to call it a day. My Life Force urgently needed replenishing (anyone remember TV show Knightmare?). I had to find a hot coffee and a cake of some sticky description before my virtual eyeballs rolled away. Also, and more importantly; I couldn’t actually carry any more books. The Giant Warehouse had defeated me.

It’s only when you are physically surrounded by what looks like the entire stock of Amazon that you realise just how many books there are in the world. Billions of books – good books, bad books, books that surely only got published because someone along the line was squiffy. And then there are the invisible authors behind the books – hopeful authors, earnest authors, authors that dreamed big things, authors that stayed up late and got up early and typed their little hearts out, all to end up in the Giant Warehouse just waiting for someone like me to find their words again.

I love hearing their voices speak to me from the books and wonder about their lives, whether publication was the Holy Grail for them or whether it was a by-product of their academic progress, a sideline, so to speak. I wondered about the people that wrote the microwave cookbooks,  the children’s fiction epics that were swept under and aside by Narnia, the books that didn’t have the sprinkle of fairy dust needed to make them shine.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Book treasure rescued from the Giant Warehouse

* Surely you can shake a stick at anything regardless of its quantity and mass. I am quite capable of shaking a stick towards a mountain, for example. I can also shake a stick at my book collection. Apparently this saying came about because a confuddled shepherd was trying to count his sheep by waggling his crook at them, but couldn't do it because his flock was too big. I think he needed to come up with a more efficient counting method, personally.

**Old pet care books make me very sad. I can't even tell you why because then it will make you sad too. Let's think of something happier, like gambolling puppies and kittens. (Not gambling, though. Puppies and kittens are not known for their addiction to cards or pool-playing, despite what artist Louis Wain might have had us believe.)

And where is this large bookstore? Here: www.bookbarninternational.co.uk


Kittie Howard said...

Ohhhhh, but this is a delicious, up-lifting post. Thanks for a vicarious visit that warmed the heart - yes, a time when books were rock stars on their own merit.

Kamille Elahi said...

OMG! I need to go there! Where in the UK is this?

JO said...

This in Hay-on-Wye? The second-hand-bookshop heaven!

Melody said...

I. Want. To. Be. Here. This is marvelous. :)

Debbie said...

I'd love to visit that place, but I'm not sure about the cold. Brr! It'd be worth it though.

Nick Wilford said...

It does sound amazing. It must be a bit like looking at the night sky, feeling extremely insignificant compared to the millions of stars out there - but still, you wouldn't mind taking your place with them, hoping someone will still remember you years down the line!

Old Kitty said...

Sometimes you just gotta put that stick down and just go with the flow! And what a flow! Books, glorious books, wonderful books!

Good for you!! Hope you had your coffee and sticky cake after! Yay! take care

music obsessive said...

There wasn't a copy of Michael Green's 'The Art of Coarse Rugby' circa 1967, was there? I often wonder what happened to it.

Mystica said...

I am putting this into my travel section where I hoard snippets of stuff I want to do "someday". Thanks. This was wonderful.

snafu said...

It sounds as if it should be Hay on Wye, but I see it is in Somerset not Wales. At leat unlike Hay, it is all in one building, where Hay is a whole town of bookshops, and you have to walk a lot.

The Golden Eagle said...

It sounds like an amazing place! :)

Jenny said...

Droooooll!! SO jealous! :) Just when I think I'm getting a handle on mapping out my itinerary for my trip across the Pond, you tempt me with yumminess like this! :D Fantastic post! :)

Out on the prairie said...

Sometimes it becomes hard to stop at these great venues.I have too many shelves to offer anymore.

wannabe a writer said...

Hi Jayne

Sounds like heaven. Only trouble is I would have to build an extension on my house before I could visit.


KarenG said...

I can get lost in a used bookstore. This one sounds fabulous!

Mama J said...

Wow. I wouldn't have known where to start!

Maggie May said...

That can be a kind of heaven, can't it to be locked in a ware house full of books..... except to be locked in there without food or water and you would have to try & eat the books!
Its OK, I'm having a funny five minutes!
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Deniz Bevan said...

Oooh! Hay-on-Wye is definitely on my wishlist of places to visit. Thanks for the walk through the bookstore :-)

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Ah, this was lovely! I will probably never make it to this warehouse, given that I live in Sacramento, CA, USA, but, oh! you did capture the magic that makes my eyes glaze over every time I enter a used book store -- actually ANY kind of book store -- and browse its mystical aisles. I hope you are reveling in all of your purchases and feeling restored by the visit!

Plain Jane said...

I was in a bookstore last week for the first time in several years. I didn't realize how much I loved the feel of a real book. I wanted to buy everything in there. Of course my husband would have killed me, "You got a kindle so I wouldn't have to haul any more books around!". Sigh.

Yeesi7 said...

WOW! This bookstore is a heaven. Simple Awesome! Thank you for sharing.
Love from Bhutan

Rebecca Bradley said...

I recently found a bookstore I had never been in and instantly fell in love with it. Once in these places it feels a bit like Alice in Wonderland doesn't it. :)

mshatch said...

I can only imagine your delight at discovering such a wonderful place. Almost like Heaven, eh?

Happy Frog and I said...

Oh Jayne it sounds like you found book heaven on earth thanks to your friend. I love the way you describe your adventures in there and I bet you'll be back before too long.

Dolly said...

Ah bliss. I can just imagine you in there!

Ann said...

Okay, I'm jealous! Hope you're happy now!!!

Melissa Sugar said...

OMG I would love to go to this bookstore. I would be in heaven. Great post.

Nick Wilford said...

Just another quick comment to let you know you've won the Versatile Blogger award. Details are at my blog! :)

D.J. Kirkby said...

I have heard of the Book Barn! It is on my list of places to go someday when I have spare time...

Jayne said...

Kittie Howard – I’m glad you enjoyed the vicarious visit!

Kamille Elahi – It is near Bristol.

JO – It’s actually Bristol – not made it to Hay-on-Wye yet!

Melody – It was pretty fab.

Debbie – I think the ideal time of year to visit would be Spring.

Nick Wilford – Absolutely! A brilliant way to describe it.

Old Kitty – I devoured that sticky cake! The coffee was definitely needed as well.

music obsessive – Haha – you know what, Martin? I reckon there was.

Mystica – Do! If you love books it is amazing.

snafu – My dream is to get to Hay one day. Maybe this year will try to plot a visit.

The Golden Eagle – It was!

Jayne said...

Jenny – I can imagine your itinerary is packed! But if there is space, and you are near Bristol, then you should definitely check it out.

Out on the prairie – That’s true, especially as I find it so hard to give any books away.

wannabe a writer – Hi Linda. Yes, there is that problem! Also finding the reading time.

KarenG – I did!

Mama J – It was incredibly hard. I nearly always start in the children’s literature section.

Maggie May – Luckily there was a nicely equipped café!

Deniz Bevan – Mine too.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina – I loved your comment – that is exactly the feeling. Glad you have places in Sacramento that make you feel the same!

Plain Jane – Now I have a kindle, I do see the beauty of them. But nothing will pull me away from physical books, apart from if I run out of space. Moving is also a pain, sadly.

Yeesi7 – It was magical!

Rebecca Bradley – Oh it really does!

mshatch – Absolutely! I was in my element.

Jayne said...

Happy Frog and I – I did! My lovely friend knows me very well.

Dolly – If you’re picturing someone wrapped in many layers slowly walking around balancing an ever-growing pile of books then you’ve imagined me right!

Ann – Sorry!

Melissa Sugar – It was a fab place.

Nick Wilford – Aw that’s very kind of you! Thanks!

D.J. Kirkby – You’d love it!