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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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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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