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Sidmouth bookshop town?

  • by JW

“the most charming of tourist destinations…” [Alex Johnson on Book Towns]


Sidmouth is very lucky to have four bookshops – with its oldest now on the market, which will hopefully find a buyer. The Guardian’s review of independent bookshops in the South-West was certainly full of praise.

Paragon Books | Sidmouth’s Oldest Independent Bookshop!

Locals have been complaining for some time about the number of charity shops on the high street – and indeed, the town council has been worried about there not being ‘level playing field’ when it comes to business rates.

However, most of the charity shops also stock a considerable amount of second-hand books – some more than others.

The question is whether these literary offerings would be enough of a basis for Sidmouth to look to becoming a ‘book town’ – of which there are many in the UK and worldwide. And to make it happen, such a town has to be ‘made for book lovers’:

What makes a book town?

It can’t be too big—not a city, but a genuine town, usually in a rural setting. It has to have bookshops—not one or two, but a real concentration, where a bibliophile might spend hours, even days, browsing. Usually a book town begins with a couple of secondhand bookstores and later grows to offer new books, too.

But mostly, they have a lot of books for sale...

In the forthcoming Book Towns, journalist Alex Johnson catalogues these most charming of tourist destinations. He spoke to ‘Atlas Obscura’ about the pleasures of out-of-the-way places defined by their books.

The most famous is of course Hay-on-Wye in Wales, with its literary festival. But there are also tiny little places that have revitalised themselves, from Wigtown in Scotland to Fjaerland in Norway:

Fjærland is a book town, and no matter the weather, bookcases line the main road of this literary-loving community whose population numbers just 300. This is Norway’s answer to Hay-on-Wye, and this summer the town’s population will swell as Fjærland hosts its own literary festival in June.

Located on the banks of the Fjærlandsfjorden in western Norway – an offshoot of Sognefjord, Norway’s longest fjord – Fjærland became Norway’s first book town in 1995 after residents decided it was time to revitalise their declining community.

One of Sidmouth’s bookshops organises a literary festival – and whilst the event in June had to be cancelled, there have been other very well-attended sessions this year.

Would this, the ‘new bookshops’ and the charity bookshelves form the basis for “Sidmouth, book town”?