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Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word

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The so-called “Book Towns” of the world are dedicated havens of literature, and the ultimate dream of book lovers everywhere. Book Towns takes readers on a richly illustrated tour of the 40 semi-officially recognized literary towns around the world and outlines the history and development of each community, and offers practical travel advice.

Many Book Towns have emerged in areas of marked attraction, such as Ureña in Spain or Fjaerland in Norway, where bookshops have been set up in buildings including former ferry waiting rooms and banks. While the UK has the best-known examples at Hay, Wigtown and Sedbergh, the book has a broad international appeal, featuring locations such as Jimbochu in Japan, College Street in Calcutta, and major unofficial “book cities” such as Buenos Aires.

192 pages, Hardcover

First published March 22, 2018

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About the author

Alex Johnson

14 books66 followers
Latest book: Shed Manual (Haynes, 2019)
Next book: Edward Lear & The Pussycat: Famous Writers and Their Pets (August, 2019)
Next book after that: Menus That Made History (Kyle/Octopus, September, 2019)

I am a professional blogger and journalist, part of The Independent newspaper's online team in the UK. I run Shedworking (www.shedworking.co.uk) which inspired the book 'Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution' published by Frances Lincoln, The Micro Life (www.themicrolife.co.uk), and curate Bookshelf (www.onthebookshelf.co.uk), which was published as a book in 2012 by Thames & Hudson as 'Bookshelf'.

'Improbable Libraries', a survey of the most unusual and intriguing libraries around the world, was published by Thames & Hudson in April 2015 and 'A Book of Book Lists' in October 2017 by The British Library. My book on book towns around the world, 'Book Towns', was published by Frances Lincoln in March 2018 and 'Shelf Life, a selection of essays about books and reading, in October 2018 by The British Library. The same month, I brought out a literary trumps card game called The Writers Game with Laurence King Publishing.

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5 stars
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122 (43%)
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76 (27%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 115 reviews
Profile Image for Ova - Excuse My Reading.
480 reviews363 followers
May 16, 2018
Absolutely loved this book. I was concerned that the towns suggested would only be in one continent but they aren't. Although looks like France has most book towns!
Lovely addition to the library if you're a book lover and traveler. I'll definitely try and visit this book towns - I wish I knew a few of them - Swede and Norwegian ones- as I recently wandered quite near by but didn't have a clue they were there!
Highly recommended. Also photos are amazing.

Thanks to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing for a copy in exchange with an honest review.
Profile Image for Laura.
2,764 reviews82 followers
May 20, 2018
I am the kind of person who goes to Portland to spend time at Powell's City of Books. I am the kind of person that when I ran out of room in my luggage, when I was in Australia, shipped as many of the books home, as I could. I'm the kind of person that, when I can, stuffs my suitcases full of books, no matter what city I visit.

So, when I saw this book about book towns, town that are gearted to lovers of books like me, I though it would be fun to read, and so it was. I knew about Hay on Wye, the city that decided to build its legacy on books, and i have been meaning to visit it for years. The cool thing is that according to this book, there are now 44 more areas across the globe, that are trying to recreate what Hay on Wye has done.

From South Africa to Canada, from New York to Featherson New Zealand, book towns have appeared all over. The book covers each one with a nice photo spread, and a story of the book stores that can be found there, as well as information about book store related festivals.

The only one I found a little stretched was the one about the "Gold Cities" in the Gold country of California, which is stretched across Nevada City and Grass Valley. The one is only sort of in existence, now and it seems strange, for a travel book, to be talking about what was, rather than what is.

Still, this would be a good starting point for finding cities in the area you want to travel to, that just happen to have book festivals.

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jen .
2,658 reviews27 followers
June 28, 2018
Book Town ENVY. The pictures in this book are GORGEOUS and I want to go to every single place mentioned in this book! Heck, I want to LIVE in them all! This book will make you DROOL with how some people, and even countries, live re: book love.

The only sad thing is that there were quite a few book towns that have gotten smaller and some that have even folded up. Which leads me to why this is a 4 and not a five star book. This book is already dated I am sure. If one were to read this book more than a year after it came out, I would hazard a guess that some of the places mentioned would have changed. Maybe for the better I would hope, though depressingly probably the other way.

I would highly recommend this book if you 1) love books, 2) love to travel (in reality or via "armchair travel" via a book) and 3) find beauty in the impermanence of things. This book is more sweet than bitter, so it's not overly sad, but it is there. I think most users of any book site will love this book and it would make an EXCELLENT gift. I would personally recommend the "real" book rather than eBook format, if only because of the pictures. They are GORGEOUS, but I couldn't figure out how to make them bigger without making the whole thing wonky. That's just me being tech-challenged, but if pressed, I will always say the real book is better. Usually. ; ) So a solid 4 stars!

My thanks to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group - Frances Lincoln for the invitation and eARC copy of this book to read and review.
Profile Image for Steffi.
976 reviews204 followers
April 7, 2018
Liebevoll gestaltetes, fotoreiches Buch, das Lust macht, die inzwischen zahlreichen Bücherstädte in der Welt zu besuchen. Ich wusste von Hay-on-Wye als berühmtester book town und persönlich kenne ich die Bücherstadt Wünsdorf-Waldstadt, weil sie von Berlin aus leicht zu erreichen ist.

Nun weiß ich nicht nur von weiteren book towns in Europa, sondern auch in Australien, USA, Süd Korea und Südafrika. Aufgrund der Erreichbarkeit werden aber wohl das nordrhein-westfälische Langenberg oder das niedersächsische Katlenburg zu meinen nächsten Zielen gehören.

Ein Buch, das ich nicht als Muß bezeichnen würde, außer für Menschen, die Bildbände über Bibliotheken und Buchhandlungen lieben (wie ich) und dies als Ergänzung zu selbigen nicht entbehren möchten.
June 17, 2018
This was a fantastic, beautiful and informative book that I would recommend to all book lovers! I always wanted to travel one day to all the beautiful places that revolve around literature. It's amazing all the unique and beautiful places. I can't wait to the day I can travel to these places like Hay-On-Wye but for now it was fantastic to travel to all these beautiful bibliophile centered places via this book!
Profile Image for Kelly.
255 reviews
March 27, 2018
Book Towns does exactly what it says on the cover… it takes you around the world to visit various book towns giving each one around 4 pages in the book which contains a description of the towns themselves along with interesting titbits of information and stunning photography.

This is a true ‘coffee table’ book for me. Literally a fascinating non-fiction book that can be left on the coffee table and picked up and perused for a few minutes with a cuppa each time. You don’t lose your place or feel overwhelmed with information and it’s an absolute joy to read. A beautifully presented book, it contains information on 45 book towns around the world from Australia to France to South Africa to France again (there’s a lot of book towns in France) and of course I skipped right to Wigtown in Scotland before going back to start at the beginning.

Each of the entries is interesting to read and it really comes across that the author has thoroughly researched each of them with information on how or why the town became a book town, what bookshops are in it including a little bit of background on some of them and also including other ‘book’ related businesses that have taken root in the town. It also includes information on book festivals that are either held in the town or nearby and the photography that accompanies each of the entries is stunning. This is book porn at its best! I loved looking at all the different arrangements in the towns and the amazing spaces that books are being sold from and each entry also includes a little ‘more information’ box that often gives the website address for the town or festival and opening hours in some cases.

A beautifully bound and presented book that made me want to pack the family into a camper van to go and tour all the book towns of the world… I mean what could be better?!
Profile Image for Laura.
Author 1 book124 followers
April 10, 2018
There are two things that I love to do: travel and read books. And whenever I do travel I always keep an eye out for bookshops, book stands, and libraries. I love coming home with a book I bought on my travels. So when I came across this book with the topic of Book Towns, I was instantly intrigued. What is a book town?

In Book Town: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word, the author describes a book town as "simply a small town, usually rural and scenic, full of bookshops and book-related industries." The movement began when towns wanted to help their economy by focusing on sustainable tourism so that communities can thrive and the traditional book kept alive. Many of these villages hold literary festivals and other creative events that appeal to artists and tourists.

Alex Johnson has compiled together the very first guide of 45 book towns from nearly 30 countries, giving us a brief history of the town, popular events that take place there and photos of its quaint landmarks. Each section ends with a small information box containing pertinent website links and how to best get to the town by car, train, or bus.

I loved reading about these towns, many of which are in Europe. Each is unique in its own way. It stirred the travel bug in me, making me want to hop on a plane to visit and stroll through their streets, these towns that display their love of books in such creative ways.

The author dedicates about 4 pages per town, with lots of photos and a short text that packs a punch of interesting info. One learns not only interesting historical tidbits but also fun information about the towns and its inhabitants. Some of these towns offer stunning scenery, making them the perfect place to buy and read a book. Truly paradisaical!

What is also interesting is that many of the bookshops are also specialty bookshops, selling books on local history, religious books, banned books, old books or books that may not be found elsewhere.

Book Towns is a great coffee table book and ideal to gift to the book lover who loves to travel. It is a book that is a testament to the love that people have of the printed written word, and to the ingenious ideas communities come up with, not only to survive, but in some cases to thrive through local artistry and craftsmanship. The love of books is universal as seen through the colorful pages of this book. It is heartwarming to read about the respect books are given in these towns.

The next time I travel, I will make it a point to take photos of the bookshops I visit. If you find yourself in a book town, stop and visit their bookshops and buy a book or two. You will be supporting the town, the printed word and your own love of reading.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book. I chose to read it and write my honest review.
Profile Image for Literary Redhead.
1,732 reviews514 followers
July 3, 2019
I love this book! Not knowing there was such a thing as a “Book Town,” I’m now intimately acquainted with 45 literary kingdoms across the globe ... through gorgeous photographs and inviting descriptions. A perfect gift for the bibliophile or traveler — or as a jewel of a treat for oneself. 5 Stars!

Thank you, NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group - Frances Lincoln,
for the early copy. Opinions are mine.

#BookTowns #NetGalley
Profile Image for Kirsty.
Author 71 books1,316 followers
May 27, 2018
Gorgeous little book about book towns around the world (although they’re mostly in western Europe). I wish there had been more photos, particularly of the insides of the bookshops - what reader doesn’t love seeing bookshop interiors? It’s still very sweet though, and now I want to visit every place mentioned in the book. A great gift for a bookish friend.
Profile Image for Camille.
466 reviews20 followers
July 8, 2018
Shamefully, I didn't know much about book towns. I think I had vaguely heard about them before, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Alex Johnson does an amazing job of telling us what they are, along with the history and development of each town as a book town, along with gorgeous photographs. He also gives you the addresses of the most notable buildings for each town, so it turns into a travel guide at times, which is great as I now want to go and visit all the towns! Book Towns is full of information, easy to read or just look at, and it puts dreams in your head.

A must-have for book lovers!

Thanks to NetGalley and Quarto Publishing Group for providing me with a free review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for MissBecka Gee.
1,600 reviews637 followers
November 5, 2018
There are just a couple of pages for each town, but they are packed with pictures, descriptions of vendors & events as well as a brief history for the area.
Just enough to pique your interest...and by golly my interest was piqued for several towns I had no knowledge of prior to these pages.
I do think this could have been even better if the author had added some personal thoughts for each town.....
Did he find any book gems while visiting any of the bookshops?
Did he stay at any of the bookish hotels he describes?
Which foods/drinks did he like best at the cafes he recommends?
What kind of atmosphere, scents, feelings did he absorb in each store or area?
Did he try any of the interactive experiences he talks about in some towns?
Was he there during any of the festivals to get first hand experience with the crowds & events?

Without any personal touches this comes off cold and reads a bit dry. Still a lot of neato information in here, I just hoped for a warmer and cuddlier look to give me a better picture of the atmosphere in each town.
Profile Image for Emily.
159 reviews2 followers
April 10, 2018
I now have 45 locations to visit added to my bucket list! There are a couple very small features I would change about the book, if I could do so. First, instead of featuring a quote about the location next to the write-up from that very same section, I think a small map of the book town’s location would be more beneficial. I also wish that the table of contents listed the name of the country with the city name to make referencing the passage easier at a later date. Each book town sounds like a wonderful place to visit, and the photographs featured in the book are beautiful.
Profile Image for Fran.
756 reviews12 followers
May 9, 2018
This book details the history of book towns. Informative, with gorgeous photography....makes the reader long to seek out each and every bookish destination.
Profile Image for C.R. Elliott.
164 reviews40 followers
July 14, 2018
Basically the perfect book for anyone who wants a guide of where to travel without straying far from delightful books and cultural hubs where reading is appreciated, even revered. I had hoped for something a bit more gorgeous for coffee tables but the book is more travel guide than visual candy. I can see myself gifting this to my reading inclined traveling friends and relatives over the holiday season.
Profile Image for Mandy.
3,218 reviews278 followers
July 5, 2018
I now have a new ambition – to visit all the places described in this enchanting compendium of book towns all around the world. Who knew there were so many! Beautifully illustrated, this is an essential volume for every book lover, even for those who can only dream of visiting any of the towns featured.
Profile Image for Richard.
1,821 reviews151 followers
August 31, 2018
If you truly love books you will not be able to fault this book.
I know this is a bold statement and I have no wish to court controversy or cause offence. My point is this. Here is a book that that encourages the promotion of all things booky and sees that focus through the dedicated individuals who have tirelessly worked to regenerate their towns and communities by encouraging the promotion of books.
In the process these communities have reached out through selling books, attracting other arts and crafts, the skills around these things like papermaking, printing and bookbinding. But through shops and associated commissioning of awards, literary events and book fairs visitors have come and towns and districts have flourished again, many maintaining this impetus although bookshops have closed along the way. Books have been instrumental in enriching the local culture. Wow!
The ethos of a book town appears to be the physical item, the hardback or printed paperback. The delight of turning pages, the feel and smell.
In alphabetical order these towns have a couple of pages dedicated to them and their origins and successes. Many are variations on each other, most are driven by one or two persons' vision some inspired by other more famous locations like Hay on Wye (they get 3 pages).
Within this potted history is a range of common details, the location, impact, resources and buildings involved. In some cases, nearly every available space is used, honest boxes are available for purchases and pictures reflect the sense of place. Crucially many links and websites are listed.
Reading this book was like finding out that a new continent had been discovered. A lost tribe had walked out of the highlands of a previously remote area on a pacific island or Brexit vote never happened.
My world became a new vibrant place; I had reasons to travel and visit unexplored places and in countries as close as France, book towns were a fact. I pinched myself, Father Christmas was a great guy and the Tooth Fairy a generous dental hygienist and England were going to win the World Cup.
So, book towns exist they were as different as they were random but like CB radio enthusiasts before, the communication was happening even if I had never heard it. A new reality of communities coalescing around and promoting the printed word existed in greater numbers than some endangered species.

I love this book, it told me that chocolate would continue to be made and enjoyed.
Significantly, the types of confectionary were increasing and where it was available widening.

I love books; book shelves crammed with books. My kindle is filled with access to more books than I could possibly read; but to arrive someplace soon and pick up a well-loved book and hold it in my hands is a pleasure that awaits me and seemingly already fills increasing numbers of people with a similar joy.

Book Towns - I love this book.
Profile Image for Marjolein (UrlPhantomhive).
2,389 reviews51 followers
June 24, 2018
3.5 Stars

Read all my reviews on http://urlphantomhive.booklikes.com

Book Towns collects, as the name would suggest, Book Towns from all over the world. It was an interesting little book for those of us who breathe books, so to speak. I couldn't help but be attracted to them and have added several (in Belgium and The Netherlands) that I would like to visit this summer. Others I would like to visit in the future.

Every town is featured with a story, and several pictures as well as some information. While in general this was really nice, it felt like some of the Book Towns didn't have enough information to really fill the pages. Also, it became repetitive a bit, as most book towns were generated from a Marketing/Tourism point of view and the story was often the same. Also also, it was sad to read that quite a few of them were way past their heyday.

Still a nice read for book lovers.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for JAnn Bowers.
Author 21 books33 followers
May 29, 2018
Alex's work on this book was amazing
The photos were beautiful and the information about each book town was compelling and captivating. If you love book stores and their history this is the book for you.
Profile Image for Jilly.
497 reviews3 followers
May 24, 2018
A fascinating insight into Book towns around the world. Who knew there were so many? I was aware of Hay-on -Wye but great to see there are many more. Something interesting on every page. It would make a great coffee table book - I think everyone would find something to grab their interest. I loved the photos, they really added to the attraction of each page. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Emily.
2,208 reviews
May 25, 2018
This would be the perfect present for someone bookish! It would look great on their coffee table - the photos inside are also beautiful!

Also, I need to move to a book town.
1,024 reviews19 followers
May 19, 2021
What a beautiful book! I have been to a couple of these towns and this book only makes me want to travel to them again. Alas, I am old and handicapped so I will not visit many of them. But I may try to persuade my city manager or county manager to make this a book town. If you have ever traveled to a book town, you know that you leave town with an extra bundle of books - books you have been looking for for ages, books that you never knew the author wrote or was written about, books that look too good to pass by because you know you will read them someday. I well remember the tiny book store on the Eastern Shore of Virginia/Maryland where I saw a paperback edition of Bleak House. I still have it - a paperback that is lighter and I can carry around.
And the photographs are beautiful, often of surrounding areas and sometimes of the streets where a multitude of book stores operate. This is a book that I will treasure for a long time and will use it to urge others to help me make Fort Pierce, Florida a book town.
Thank you to the author, publisher, and Goodreads for a preview copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,866 reviews295 followers
November 30, 2021
Do you love books? I mean, really, really, really *love* books? I'm talking obsessed with books. Yes? Then this book is for you. Alex Johnson takes you on a tour of all the book towns (yes, that's a thing) around the world. Lots of photos. Lots of ideas for future travel destinations.

Now I just need someone to organize a real-life tour of all of these, and add the tour to my bucket list.
1,953 reviews10 followers
April 27, 2018
I was familiar with the "book town" of Hay on Wye in England, where there are a multitude of bookstores and a yearly book festival, but I had no idea how many book towns there were world wide. These are towns that support reading both through new and used bookstores, publisher houses, book binders, stationeers, etc. Surprising to me were how many were found in Norway- maybe that needs to be a trip for me in retirement.
Profile Image for Camila.
257 reviews46 followers
July 9, 2018
This book goes through, in photos and words, all the different book towns in the world. It is so enchanting! It's interesting to see how different they look from one country to another, but also interesting to hear how they started and the benefits they have added to their wee towns.

This book is now responsible for creating a whole new travel bucket list for me!

*This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – all opinions are my own.*
Profile Image for Dana Stabenow.
Author 99 books1,952 followers
November 22, 2018
Delightful accounting of so-called "book towns" all over the world (Pro tip: They aren't all named Hay-on-Wye) and would make a great gift for the book lover in your life. Although it will leave you looking up fares to Paju, South Korea.
Profile Image for Victoria.
533 reviews48 followers
June 17, 2018
A gorgeous book showing us the beautiful towns around the world that are dedicated to the written word, ‘Book Towns’ is a must read for a reader with wanderlust.

Giving brief biographies of these places along with highlights to visit this book really gives a great perspective of these different towns, keeping it honest but also highlighting just what these towns have to offer when it comes to your literary needs. Places such as Clunes in Australia for example stands out for me for its interesting and unique way of selling books - by preserving its past.

These biographies are accompanied by some gorgeous photography. In particular, Fjaerland in Norway’s entry in this book has some stunning photos of the views found in the town and Redu in Belgium’s pages showcase both it’s beauty and the talents of its residents, something that is a theme throughout this book as it shows not just bookshops but binders, paper makers and libraries as well.

A book that will make you want to grab your passport (if you love books, of course) and leave your house for one, Book Towns is a concise and beautifully made book that highlights some incredibly unique places, whether they be town, cities or even just a street.

(I received an ARC from Netgalley for a honest review).

2,502 reviews4 followers
June 18, 2018
Whenever I travel, be it near or far, I always look for the local bookshops where I love to browse and buy. Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, Daunt Books in London, Politics and Prose in DC...you get the idea. So, you can imagine that I might find this book appealing and indeed I do. "Book Towns" is a book about towns like Hay on Wye where there are many bookshops and book festivals. I learned that many book towns began in order to improve local economies. In this book, many such towns are visited. The armchair traveler can spend time in France, England, Scotland, Wales, Belgium, Finland, the U.S., South Africa, etc. Plus, if you are planning a trip to one of the towns mentioned, you will know just where to go. The photographs made me long to be in each and every town and store. I highly recommend this book for all bibliophiles. Thanks to NetGalley and Quarto.
Profile Image for Aimee.
416 reviews8 followers
June 11, 2018
Do you love books and travel? Then this is the book for you! This book takes you to 45 book towns around the world giving you some of the basic information (if their books tend to follow a certain genre, if they have certain festivals, etc.), each town has a summary box with websites for more information, directions, etc., and each town beautiful pictures of the town and surroundings.

This book put several new goals on my bucket list including:

• Climbing the Tower of Babel (built entirely from books) in Buenos Aires
• Going to Bowral, Australia to see Mary Poppins birthplace (and maybe convince them to do another umbrella mosaic).
• Go to the smallest bookstore in the world in Hobart, NY.
• Go to at least a few of the book towns in France.

Overall this is a very good book and a good addition to any coffee table.

Thanks so much to Netgalley, the publishers, and the author for providing me with a copy for an honest review.

Profile Image for Debo.
18 reviews
June 16, 2018
If you enjoy browsing bookshops and are a bit of a traveller at heart this is the perfect books for you! This is a pictorial version of my bucket list, a fabulous book reviewing go to places for the book lover, towns pop ups and hints on where to go for more information. Each section reviews each location, a bit of history as to why its so special and lots of photographs. The perfect gift for a book lover.
Profile Image for Steph – BookSirens ‘R’ Us.
62 reviews89 followers
June 29, 2022
What a fantastic read and the perfect gift to give if you have a book-loving friend. Book Towns takes a look at 45 amazing villages, towns, streets, and cities that are devoted to literature. I know of Hay and Wigtown from before, but most other places were new to me. There are loads of photographs, interesting titbits, and plenty of information about the towns that will make you want to pack your bags and head there as soon as possible.
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