Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sixpence House by Paul Collins

I have been a bibliophile for as long as I remember, though I imagine a lot of writers are like that. Libraries were my sanctuaries. Book sales were my heaven.

The first time I saw Charing Cross Road in London, I had a book-gasm.

So I picked up Sixpence House by Paul Collins because of its subject matter. Part memoir, part travelogue, part love story to the printed form, it tells the story of the author's move to a small town called Hay-on-Wye in Wales, notorious for its many, many, MANY used bookstores. He goes there with his wife and toddler son, with the hopes of settling there. Over the course of the book, we get to know some of its inhabitants, but more so, we learn of the author's love/hate relationship with the books themselves, as well as witness how he struggles finding his place in the world (much like so many of the books in the town that are endlessly forgotten).

Is it a great book? No, I wouldn't say great. Put to the wall, I'd give it four out of five stars. But it's anecdotal sense of style is infectious, especially as he constantly throws out the oddest tidbits of trivia from the most arcane books you can ever imagine. He's often incredibly funny, and with the prose broken into lots of little scenes, it's a very fast read.

If anything, it reminds me of Bill Bryson, an author I fell in love with when I first moved to the UK in '99. It lacks some of Bryson's sophistication, but Collins is young, and honestly, I think he's a little too close to the source material. He gets distracted easily, so the narrative meanders all over the place as he drops in what seem like meaningless asides. It often comes across as more than a little silly, leaving me to wonder what the point actually is.

I had to finish it to get it. Because Collins is one of those unknown books, sitting on a shelf in Hay, constantly getting reordered in an attempt to find meaning.