If you’ve ever heard the phrase “book town” and thought it was just a cutesy name for a place, then you’ll be pleased and/or surprised to hear that book towns are real, true destinations.
A book town is defined, loosely, as a small town or village that is home to a large number of bookstores. The bookstores are primarily used and/or antiquarian, and many of these book towns play host to book lovers who travel to see them and experience a quaint world of book shops upon book shops. There are a few dozen designated book towns throughout the world, and some of them even host their own literary festivals, making a perfect reason for a trip or two.
Let’s take a trip across the world to some of the better-known and lesser-known book towns.
This might be one of the best-known book towns. It’s been featured around the internet and caught the attention of many a book lover on Tumblr. Hay-on-Wye is Wale’s national book town and plays host to the annual Hay Festival. This year’s Hay Festival — celebrating its thirtieth year — kicks off on May 27, and information about the event can be found here.
Fun fact: Jasper Fford, author of the “Thursday Next” series, is from Hay-on-Wye. Seems fitting!
Did you know that the USA boasts its own book town? Located on the St. Croix River and an hour or so from the Twin Cities, Sillwater was America’s first official town to earn the distinction. Pictured above is the Loome Bookstore, which is one of five in town. Though there aren’t as many bookstores as some of the other book towns around the world, the focal point is the sheer number of antiquarian books available for sale.
Jinbōchō, Tokyo, Japan
A single neighborhood within Tokyo boasts the title of book town. In the early 1910s, a fire caused a huge amount of destruction in this neighborhood. The reconstruction efforts allowed a local university professor to build a bookstore. While no longer a bookstore, that facility morphed into the Iwanami Shoten publishing house. Success at the bookstore/publishing house allowed other book stores and publishers to open in the neighborhood, including the creators of Shonen Jump manga anthology magazine.
Check out this excellent photo collection and tour of the area from Chris of The Beguiling in Toronto.
St. Martins, New Brunswick, Canada
With almost a dozen booksellers in this small, picturesque Canadian town, St Martins is a relative newcomer to the “book town” distinction, earning the title in 2007. St. Martins is a tiny town with just over 300 residents, so the proportion of books to people is pretty outstanding.
This isn’t Canada’s first or only book town. Sidney, British Columbia, also boasts the title, though the population and book ratio is a little different.
Bhilar, Maharashtra, India
India’s first and only book town is brand new: it had its official “launch” and publicity campaign in early May 2017. Bhilar is located about 250 kilometers from Mumbai, and through efforts of the Education ministry, the town itself, and local artists, over 25 locations throughout the area are dedicated to all things books, reading, literature. The mural welcoming those to the city — pictured above — shares excerpts from books. Bhilar has 600 village residents, but now boasts far more than that in available books. The goal of the book village? To create a culture of reading and encourage tourism to a new part of India. Check out these stories about Bhilar and its new designation as “Pustakanche Gaav.”
Clunes, Victoria, Australia
Clunes will host the International Organization of Book Towns Festival in 2018, welcoming guests from around the world to their own take on the book town. Besides having a vision statement that encompasses the vision for keeping a high ratio of bookstores and art experiences relative to its population, Clunes also holds its own large book festival every year. They also hold a monthly “Booktown on Sundays” series which invites writers to talk with the community. If you’re now itching to plan a trip there, this might help you out.
Bosudong, Jung-Gu, Busan, South Korea
South Korea’s only “used book alley,” Bosudong’s Bookstore Alley began as a result of the Korean War. Refugees who’d obtained books and magazines that were left behind during the war would sell them here. The bulk of materials available today are in Korean, but there are some English titles available, and visitors note that the floor-to-ceiling stacks are the right kind of claustrophobic for book lovers. You can look at a few more pictures here and learn a bit more about one of the most famous book spaces in South Korea here.
Mundal, Fjaerland, Norway
Three hundred residents who live alongside a glacier (!) call Mundal their home, and it, too, has earned the distinction of a book town. According to a short tourism video about the town, there are approximately 10 bookstores within 1 kilometer of the town itself. It’s worth watching this, if for no reason than to see where and how the town stores its books. What’s most interesting is seeing the sort of trust system going on in this book town — there are shelves with jars for money to be dropped in and no one minding them.
Richmond, Northern Cape, South Africa
Richmond’s book town began through a long search and series of trips — as well as the help of a Canadian. The location on the Northern Cape of South Africa was selected both for its accessibility and its affordability, as booksellers could maintain their life doing what they love without feeling the financial pinch other locations might invite. Richmond’s status as a book town also means that it’s home to the annual Bookbedonnered Festival. Discover more about Richmond’s distinction as the only book town in Africa and more about the literary festival here.