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Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  2,559 ratings  ·  388 reviews
Paul Collins and his family abandoned the hills of San Francisco to move to the Welsh countryside—to move, in fact, to the village of Hay-on-Wye, the "Town of Books" that boasts fifteen hundred inhabitants—and forty bookstores. Taking readers into a secluded sanctuary for book lovers, and guiding us through the creation of the author's own first book, Sixpence House ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published April 3rd 2004 by Bloomsbury USA (first published 2003)
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Average rating 3.65  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,559 ratings  ·  388 reviews

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Dec 10, 2007 rated it did not like it
Why do I read these books? It is like a sickness.

Paul Collins says: Are me & my wife the only Americans who don't own or drive cars? (YES PAUL YOU ARE JUST THAT SPECIAL AND DIFFERENT. ALSO YOU ARE THE ONLY AMERICAN NAMED "PAUL." TRUE FACT.) Paul Collins says: 890 square feet would "barely accommodate" a 1-bedroom apt. in the USA. Paul Collins says American grocery stores are never ever ever out of anything ever. Paul Collins says EVERY AMERICAN HAS DIAMONDS FOR TEETH AND BATHES IN PEARLS
Sep 18, 2012 rated it did not like it
The shortest version I can possibly give you is that Sixpence House is the latest -- and last -- bust in the long line of books I read because Nancy Pearl recommended them with great enthusiasm. I reject her as a competent adviser on what to read next, and vow never again to pick up any book just on her say-so. I have spent the last two years dutifully listing books to read based on her wildly popular Book Lust series, but no more. It is time to realize that when, out of the 150 or so books I've ...more
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Booklovers
Sixpence House is ostensibly Collins’ story of attempting to move his family from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye, a small Welsh village with 1,500 inhabitants and 40 bookstores. Hay-on-Wye is an interesting place, and in the right hands, that story could be enough. Luckily for us, Paul Collins is an inveterate reader and collector of obscure tidbits. The story of the move and his time in Wales thus becomes a framework from which to hang some of the most fascinating asides it has ever been my ...more
Connie G
Paul Collins and his family moved from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye, a small Welsh village with 40 antiquarian bookstores. Although Collins was born in the States, his parents were British and he had family in the area. He and his wife were looking for a place in the country to raise their toddler son. Their search for a home took them to many stone houses--money pits that were hundreds of years old and in questionable condition.

Paul worked in a large antiquarian bookstore while he was going
Jul 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is a book for people who love to read and if they also are enchanted with Wales and wish they could live there, it's even better. Paul Collins is a writer who evidently has been doing quite well because he was able to afford to move with his wife and young son from California to the little Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye, known as the town of books. It's true. I was there about 15 years ago and it was like dying and going to heaven. There were dozens of used book stores - most of them housed in ...more
May 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-bookstores
[2.8 stars] Of course, I liked this book! Or at least the idea of it! After all, it is set in the Welsh bookstore town of Hay-on-Wye where Collins, his wife, and young child have moved.
Unfortunately, Collins writes with detachment and doesn't really let the reader into his life. He quotes extensively (and indulgently) from obscure 19th-century journals and magazines he has fun finding. I was disappointed at how little this book was about bookstores or literature.
Book Concierge
Paul Collins moved his wife and baby from San Francisco to the small Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye. He wanted to give his son the chance to grow up as he had – in the country, free to roam the hills, exploring as any boy would love to do. But Hay-on-Wye is not just a small Welsh village. It is “The Town of Books” – with only 1500 residents and forty bookshops (almost all of them specializing in used / antiquarian books). This is a memoir of their family adventure.

Collins was born in America, of
What a delightful book! Though if you asked me what it's about I'd stumble around looking for the right words because it's a little hard to pigeon-hole. Not only is it a book about books, beloved and forgotten, it's also a peek into a unique location (Hay-on-Wye, where books go to die), a book about writing, an adventure of contrasts between what's American and what's British, as well as a completely engaging memoir. Fascinating, thought-provoking, and often laugh out-loud funny, I loved every ...more
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was a fun read. I need to go to this town that has 40 used bookstores!
M. D.  Hudson
Oct 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This started out really good with a breezy style and cool chapter headings in the style of old novels. Much ruminating on the state of reading, books, literacy and popular culture with more interesting quotes than I cared to write down in my journal. I particularly recall the author's discussion with a realtor who told him that too many visible books in a house actually decreases its sales appeal!! Not in my eyes, that's for sure.

Unfortunately the book became something of a let-down with too
Dec 31, 2015 rated it did not like it
Had to force myself to finish. Was really no point to this book. Found the writer to be egotistical & self absorbed in his own intellect & self professed quirkiness
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wish this book had been more about books and less about the author's personal experiences. The rating should be 2.5 stars.
Tejas Janet
This book about the author's year-long stay, circa 2000, in the small Welsh village of Hay is quirky, reflective, and highly entertaining. With his wife and young son, Paul Collins moves to Hay, a "book town" that is home to 1500 residents and 40 book stores - one book store for every 37.5 people! While there, the author is finalizing his first published book, and hoping to make Hay his long-term home.

These pages reveal his abiding love and knowledge for dusty, old tomes from earlier centuries
Jun 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Collins moves his family from San Francisco to the book town of Hay-On-Wye, Wales. The young couple plan on buying a house and raising their son there as Paul awaits his first book to be published. In the meantime, he works for "The King of Hay" in one of the towns many bookstores, meets the Hay Festival organizer and many of the locals and attempts to find a house that won't fall down on them.

This is my second read of Sixpence House and I love Collins' writing and also his perspective, as an
Perhaps the two stars are because this wasn't very interesting. Perhaps they're because I'm jealous. The author was just casually browsing in the biggest used bookstore in Hay-on-Wye, fell into conversation with the owner, and just like that was offered the job of organizing the American fiction section. That would never happen to me, and it's not fair. hmmf.
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
You will like this book if:
1. You are an Anglophile
2. You appreciate false dichotomous thinking. In other words, comparing one thing to another in shallow, broad generalizations. i.e. the culture of the US vs. that of Wales/Britain
3. You are a white male and/or are incapable of viewing your own luck through the lens of cultural awareness. See ending of book for a truly ignorant example.
Dec 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
A very pleasant, comfortable read. Like a conversation with a really nice, interesting dinner guest. Old books, old houses, Wales, and lots of quotes from obscure literary works.
Mandy Eve-Barnett
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a Brit I loved the 'images' the author described. A town of books is a writers dream and Hay-on-Wye is the place to visit.
Paul Collins uses extracts and quotes from long lost authors & books to good use throughout the story and takes you on a journey of this writing life.
Glenna Barlow
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-books
what a perfectly charming book. the author is witty and peppers the narrative with amusing anecdotes and passages that he's collected from various books that he's rescued over the years. of all the books i've read about books and book-lovers this one seems to ring the most true. truly, here is someone who has a deep and abiding passion for books of all kinds and gives each its due. even better, this particular book was one that i myself had been scouring shelves for for many months, making it ...more
Feb 25, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: lives
I’ve had a couple of unsatisfactory reads lately , although they were at least unsatisfactory for different reasons. Sixpence House I have been looking at since it came out in hardcover, but it didn’t make the purchase list until available in paperback on a day when I was in the mood for retail therapy. I should have paid attention to the instinct that stopped me from buying it in the first place. It’s the story of the short period when the author and his family moved to a town in Britain that ...more
May 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the book for anyone who wishes to visit Hay-On-Wye, the town of books or daydreams about it like I do. I was there three years ago this week and I was so pleased when I found this book this week. Paul left San Francisco with his family for this sleepy little town in the Black Mountains in Wales on the border of Hereford and Hereford-shire. It was lovely going back there through Paul's eyes hearing about the streets he walked down that I walked down myself( I too was in that Chinese..for ...more
Jan 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
The writing is that of an overeducated white male who has a genuine interest in oddball historical accounts and literary outliers. I appreciate the intelligent, witty writing and the author's commentary on living abroad. He throws in many completely random little tidbits of history and literature, many of which are splendid. Some of which fall a little flat. Upon viewing his photo, I have determined that Collins is someone I would have mocked in high school for being pretentious. As adults we ...more
Feb 03, 2015 rated it did not like it
There wasn't much of anything to this book. I only finished it because I usually will finish books I start.
Cynthia Egbert
Aug 01, 2018 rated it liked it
A mixed bag of emotions from this one. I loved the stuff about books and Wales, especially Hay-on-Wye, but the ridicule of Americans and many of his other derogatory and judgmental remarks rubbed me the wrong way. All in all, I am glad I read it, but there were those moments where I had to grit my teeth.

Some quotes that I appreciated:

"If you grew up in a rural area, you have seen how farmhouses come and go, but the dent left by cellars is permanent. There is something unbreakable in that
2.5 stars

This is the story of Paul Collins and his wife, who moved from San Francisco to a small town in Wales, Hay-on-Wye, a town with more book stores per capita than anywhere else in the world. Paul is an author and while raised in America, the product of British parents. He is working on getting his first book published. This was a recommended book because I loved The Bookman's Tale which I read earlier this month.

Unfortunately, I really struggled with this book. I generally like books about
Dana Petrovski
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
It is a warm, cozy, light-hearted book. It is full of witty observations on British and American life and literature which can only be provided by an author who belongs to both countries.

One time Paul Collins mentions a book from the late nineteenth century, Recreations of a Country Pastor by Andrew Boyd: "They [author's musings] are sermons in disguise, and they will put you to sleep. I mean that as a compliment: he is a calming writer". One page later he bitterly concludes: "We like our meat
Melody Schwarting
An absorbing, hilarious delight. Nothing sidesteps Collins' snark. This only aggravates my wanderlust for Hay-on-Wye (how did I make it to the UK twice and miss that town of books each time? I've known about it for ages.). It's a very calm sort of book but one you will not want to read on public transit lest your laughter alarms the nearby passengers. The myth of used books slips into my soul and nestles there; Collins has the same feeling, and it's a delight to find that "you, too?" in this ...more
Dec 03, 2019 rated it liked it
I love Hay and that’s why I wanted to read this. There’s a lot of background about this town of books, but it just didn’t flow well. There were too many tangents and I found myself speed-reading through those parts. Still, it’s a good read If you want to know more about Hay-on-Wye.
Oct 25, 2017 rated it liked it
If you loved A Year in Provence, this is right up your alley. But this is not as clever or as funny or as interesting.
However, I'm glad I read it, since we just spent three days in Hay-on-Wye, slightly less than the author.
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Paul Collins is a writer specializing in history, memoir, and unusual antiquarian literature. His ten books have been translated into a dozen languages, and include Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books (2003) and The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars (2011). He lives in Oregon, where he is Chair and Professor of English at Portland ...more
“If a book cover has raised lettering, metallic lettering, or raised metallic lettering, then it is telling the reader: Hello. I am an easy-to-read work on espionage, romance, a celebrity, and/or murder. To readers who do not care for such things, this lettering tells them: Hello. I am crap. 14 likes
“Many people are partial to the notion that . . . all writers are somehow mere vessels for Truth and Beauty when they compose. That we are not really in control. This is a variation on that twee little fable that writers like to pass off on gullible readers, that a character can develop a will of his own and 'take over a book.' This makes writing sound supernatural and mysterious, like possession by faeries. The reality tends to involve a spare room, a pirated copy of MS Word, and a table bought on sale at Target. A character can no more take over your novel than an eggplant and a jar of cumin can take over your kitchen.” 7 likes
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