09 November 2007

Wye, O Wye

Since my last update here I've had a birthday (my 36th, although I prefer to think of it as two eighteenth birthdays rolled into one) and a weekend away wallowing in second-hand bookshops at Hay-on-Wye. I've also read any number of books, reviews of which should be arriving shortly in a mammoth update of more or less everything I've read since August.

The birthday was happy, as these things are traditionally supposed to be, with presents of DVDs from parents and spouse and an Amnesty International T-shirt from my in-laws (which is more welcome than you might imagine, especially since they're holding on to my real present until Christmas). The DVDs from B. included Edge of Darkness, which I've heard a lot about but never seen, so I'm looking forward to a great deal.

Mum and Dad gave me the 40th anniversary Prisoner DVD boxed set, a welcome upgrade to the rather dog-eared 25th anniversary VHS boxed set which I've been watching on and off for the past one-and-a-half decades. The picture quality is gorgeously crisp, there's an hour and a half documentary full of interviews (Peter Wyngarde seems to be the only surviving Number 2 who hasn't turned fat, having opted instead to look astonishingly like Ben Kingsley), PDFs of the scripts, commentaries and all kinds of goodies including the original edit of Arrival. I'm thrilled with the whole thing.

The weekend in Hay was really lovely: relaxing insofar as we were staying in a lovely B&B and had nothing more strenuous to do than wander aimlessly round bookshops and cafés; tiring in that there were -- as you may have gathered -- rather a lot of bookshops to be wandered aimlessly around in our two days there. I believe we visited 20, and came back with some 42 books, not counting presents:
Hay on Wye book hoard

(The top row's mine, the bottom row B.'s. The ones in between we agreed to buy between us.)

Some of these are titles I'd been looking for for a while; some I'd vaguely heard of and looked interesting; some just caught my eye serendipitously in the shops. Some will be useful for reference purposes; some will tell me profound things about the human condition; some will be fun.

Of the bookshops, by far the most impressive is the colossal Hay Cinema Bookshop, filling four enormous warehouse-like rooms (well, former cinema screens, but it amounts to the same thing) on two floors with all the literature, history, cultural studies, theology and the like you could possibly dream of seeing assembled in one place (though they're admittedly a bit thin on the sciences). S.F. alone (or rather S.F. and Fantasy, because in reality you're never allowed to browse S.F. alone) takes up half a dozen sets of floor-to-ceiling shelves. Equally huge is the stock of the older and more rambling (but also rather smellier and less well-organised) Richard Booth's Bookshop.

The ones where I bought the most stock were probably (if I'm identifying them correctly from the map) The Sensible Bookshop, which had S.F. and mainstream fiction trailing up and down its staircase like a comet's tail, and the optimistically-named The Bookshop, a Bookends subsidiary which combines decent-quality secondhand stuff with remaindered copies of books you actually want to buy, at very reasonable prices. (Admittedly, the staff there have never heard of feminism. Quite literally, as B. discovered when asking after a Germaine Greer she was wanting.) The most pleasant bookshop to be in -- just in case you're wanting further recommendations -- was probably Addyman's Annexe.

Browsing in secondhand bookshops is, I think, one of the closest approaches one can make to Heaven in this life. Or perhaps I just need to get out more. Either way, it was a gloriously relaxing way to spend a weekend.

I've already read the tenth book from the left in my row above (and will be blogging about it shortly -- it's Ken MacLeod's The Human Front, which is one of the ones I'd been looking for for ages), and got stuck well in to the fourth and eleventh, Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate and Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon. Both are set in San Francisco, oddly enough, but in rather different time periods. They're otherwise staggeringly different. I'll tell you more about them later.

(Bizarrely, Hay-on-Wye is now twinned with Timbuktu. I wish I could tell you more about this, but I can't. I approve on general principles, though.)

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