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6 of the Most Intriguing Book Towns You Can Visit

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The concept of a book town first came into being in the 1960s, when the fortunes of Hay-on-Wye, a small market town on the Welsh/English border, were transformed by the power of books. The opportunity to regenerate struggling villages and towns by opening up secondhand bookstores and welcoming literary events has since been embraced by many other locations around the world, creating a network of fascinating places to visit, all with books at their heart.

1. HAY-ON-WYE, WALES

In 1961 entrepreneur Richard Booth opened a secondhand bookshop in the small market town of Hay-on-Wye (population: c. 1600). The shop proved very popular and before long had grown to become one of Europe’s largest. Soon many more specialist and secondhand bookshops popped up in the town, transforming the local economy and raising its bibliophile credentials. To crown Hay’s status as the world’s first book town, a literary festival was set up in 1987 and is now the foremost literary event in the UK, tempting in 250,000 book-loving visitors each year.

2. BREDEVOORT, NETHERLANDS

Bredevoort (population: c.1525), a small medieval town in the Netherlands, was designated a book town in 1993 because of its more than 20 secondhand and antiquarian bookshops. Every third Saturday of the month, the town square hosts a book market, attracting book dealers from all over the country to sell English, German, and Dutch books. Bredevoort is one of the founding members of the International Organisation of Book Towns, and hosts many literary events to support the local book economy.

3. REDU, BELGIUM

In 1979, villager Noel Anselot returned from a trip to Hay-on-Wye inspired and decided to regenerate his own tiny village (pop: c. 500) in the beautiful Ardennes region of Belgium by attracting booksellers. He wrote to many bookdealers across the region, inviting them to set up shop in some of the original village buildings (such as barns, houses, and sheds) to keep the look of the village intact. The project was a success, and now 17 bookshops specializing in secondhand books and comics are based in the village. Redu holds a number of book-related exhibitions and events every year, including a book night when the bookshops stay open all night long. The town was officially declared a book town in 1984 after holding its first book festival. To cement Redu’s reputation as the first book town in continental Europe, it is twinned with Hay-on-Wye.

4. HOBART, NEW YORK

In 1999 this lovely Catskills town (current population: c. 440) was, for all intents and purposes, a ghost town. The only business was a rundown diner. Local resident Don Dales saw an opportunity and began buying up empty stores. After noticing the success of one antiquarian bookshop, Dale himself opened up two more bookstores in 2004. Today there are six bookshops, teeming with books on every subject from cookbooks to rare children’s books, as well as an annual Festival of Women Writers. It’s quickly become a tempting weekend destination for book-loving New Yorkers.

5. FJAERLAND, NORWAY

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Fjaerland (population: c. 300) is located amidst the stunning fjords of Norway, making it one of the most remote book towns in the world—prior to 1994 when a road was built, Fjaerland could only be reached by boat. The tiny village hosts its bookshops among abandoned village buildings, including a former stable, grocery store, post office, and ferry waiting room. Because of its isolated location and the vagaries of the Norwegian weather, the book town is only open to visitors from May to September.

6. WIGTOWN, SCOTLAND

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Wigtown (population: c. 1000) has been Scotland’s designated national book town since 1998. After the town’s main employers, the creamery and whiskey distillery, closed, this remote Scottish town was in danger of becoming derelict. Fortunately, its regeneration was secured when Wigtown won a national search (beating off stiff competition from five other towns) to create Scotland’s only book town. Booksellers quickly moved in, setting up over twenty bookshops and a very successful literary festival.

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
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MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
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FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
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People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
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A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
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A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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