>>>Towns of books
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Towns of books

Prophecies that the e-book would spell the end of the printed word are far from being fulfilled. The electronic boom has slowed down and traditional books are finding kilometres of space for themselves. The world's 'Book Towns' are making their presence felt.
T
he doom-mongers are about to be proven wrong. 2017 is the year in which sales of e-books are supposed to outstrip those of printed books in the United States. Yet the envisaged turmoil in the publishing world has yet to materialise. E-book sales are decelerating, with even younger readers turning off them. In fact, 73% of readers aged between 16 and 24 say they prefer real paper books: the perfect foundations for book towns to flourish.
Tamara Crespo gave up city journalism to open a bookshop dedicated to her profession.
Photo: Fidel Raso

A neighbourhood with literary ambitions

Japan does not yet have a Book Town, but Jimbocho neighbourhood in Tokyo is dedicated to the arts. Its home to around 175 bookshops, of which 50 are second-hand book stores, and many specialise in one thing such as manga. The books really do pile up to the ceiling.

These literary locations date back to the 60s, born out of an initiative aimed at breathing new life into communities in decline. Invariably they were rural towns or villages, usually of historic interest, and they all looked to literature for their futures. Bookshops – often specialising in older editions, rare or second books – were set up and literary simposiums, and book fairs hosted. A romantic hipster dream or the millenial’s nightmare? Whatever your opinion, there’s no doubting that today these book towns are a magnet for tourists and book lovers.
It was Hay-on-Wye in Wales that led the way. In 1962, Richard Booth looked to combine sustainable rural development with tourism, and saw books as the solution. Then, to export the model to other countries, he founded the International Organisation of Book Towns (IOB) and also set up the Hay Festival, a literary gathering that has been now been held for 27 years in a number of towns.
In Clunes, bookshops and farmers exhibit their products and produce side by side on the streets.
Photo: Clunes Booktown
Ines Toharia and Isaac Garcia met Booth when they were living close to Hay-on-Wye. They were already toying with the idea of running a bookshop, and so jumped at the opportunity to establish the first Book Town in Spain. The location they chose was Urueña in the province of Valladolid, a medieval walled town of scarcely 200 inhabitants. And the bookshop they opened, El Grifilm, specialises in cinema. In all there are now eight shops, the newest of which is Primera Pagina, run by Tamara Crespo and Fidel Raso, and specialising in journalism, photography and travel. “Urueña provides the peace and seclusion that books and reading need,” says Crespo. “It’s a book town steeped in history, and book lovers come away from the bustle of the city to where they can enjoy individual attention from small book sellers.”
Urueña has an E-learning centre, a room to read and write, and a book-binding workshop.
Photo: Fidel Raso
One of the most important Book Towns in Europe is Redu, Belgium, very close to Luxembourg. Noel Anselot founded it in 1984, five years after visiting Hay-on-Wye. This village of 500 inhabitants is now home to around 20 bookshops, many of them opened in empty houses or old grain stores. Some have cult names, such as Fahrenheit 451, only here books are adored not burnt.
Further afield, Clunes in the state of Victoria in Australia was the first Book Town in the southern hemisphere and is famous for its themed literary festivals. In addition to the bookshops, you can visit vineyards, antique car clubs and an historic gold mine. When the literary festivals are on, visitor numbers soar by 20%.
Meanwhile, in Asia, Kampung Buku village in Malaysia, has government backing and here visitors can browse thousands of titles, many of them focusing on Malaysian history and the country today. And over in South Korea, the Book Town of Paju, 90 minutes from Seoul and close to the border with North Korea, is home to 250 publishers and was established as a way of “recovering lost humanity”, and bringing literature to a place that has seen so much conflict.
France, Italy, Germany and the United States all have their Book Towns, and the IOB now has 17 city members, while there are numerous other unaffiliated initiatives dotted around the world. These literary locations serve as proof that books aren’t going anywhere soon and, in fact, are breathing new life into neglected places, serving as a magnet for culture-loving tourists.

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