Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word

Bibliophiles and armchair travelers alike will delight in Alex Johnson's Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word, a tour of "semi-officially designated book towns." This charming, alphabetically organized--Bowral, Australia, follows Borrby, Sweden--guide highlights each town's unusual features in a dizzying spin around the globe.

These literary hot spots operate independently, but all encourage tourism, striving to boost their local economies as well as promote book-related businesses. The book town movement began in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, growing from the first few shops in the mid-'70s to a popular 10-day literary festival held every spring; these festivals have come to be replicated around the world as "Hay festivals."

Johnson includes entertaining idiosyncrasies in his reports. The Featherston, New Zealand, Yarns in Barns literary festival hosts its headlining event in a woolshed. Montmorillon, France, features its famous macarons and hundreds of types of beer during its June book fair. Wigtown, Scotland, offers the chance to live above and run a bookshop for up to two weeks, an experience "booked out months in advance." Paju, South Korea, is reputed to be the town most dedicated to books, with 250 publishers employing 10,000 people. Wunsdorf, Germany, has perhaps the darkest history: it was a Prussian military base, then headquarters of the Nazi Wehrmacht, and then, until 1994, was the largest Soviet base outside of the U.S.S.R.

With full-color photographs throughout, the tidy 8×6-inch Book Towns includes basic travel information for those opting for a first-hand experience. Johnson writes, "Book towns are beacons of hope in the fight to keep the traditional book alive. Please visit them and buy a book or two." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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