What do you do when your successful bookshop starts to overflow and you just can’t bear to part with the beautiful books? You create an annexe, a place where there’s more room to spread out and the opportunity to add a new twist to an already-beloved business. The Addyman Annexe is only a few minutes away from its parent, though in the tiny town of Hay-on-Wye, you could say that of any two locations. Although the same wide selection and evident love of literature can be found in this shop, it feels different – more modern, more open and exciting in different ways.
During the Hay Festival, the shop was constantly packed with browsers. Its lovely exterior, simpler design, more contemporary feel and emphasis on what’s good in publishing right now drew a younger crowd than Addyman Books, making it feel more like one of my usual London bookshops than the secondhand treasure coves that populate the rest of Hay. As much as I love cramped corners, crumbling old tomes and disheveled bookcases, it was refreshing to be in a neat, bright and more vocal environment. Customers twittered away happily about the events they’d attended, the books they were buying and the beautiful displays that filled the front of the shop, while the bookseller at the till patiently spoke with everyone about their choices.
The front room of the Addyman Annexe is extremely appealing. During the festival, there was a table devoted to books by festival speakers, arranged immaculately and invitingly amongst the usual fare. That fare was, as in many of the best bookshops, made up of a perfect mix of popular fiction, non-fiction and a few bays of New Releases, Bestsellers and a staff-curated selection of favourites. Any bookshop that puts this much thought into their displays is sure to be a good one. This attractive entrance falls back into another room, filled with history and politics and other misplaced books. That small room is decorated elegantly and simply, with red walls, neat rows of books and their overspill, piled on the floor. The sheer number of books packed into this small shop is astounding and – for someone quickly running out of shelf space – inspiring. I don’t know how the Annexe manages to keep the overspill from Addyman Books as well as its own massive stock looking neat and orderly while at the same time evoking that feeling of being snuggled up amongst the stacks of an old library. I do know that I’m in awe. The shop combines the best of the two kinds of bookshops found in Hay; the bibliomania of volumes cascading off of shelves with an easy, open atmosphere that invites everyone, regardless of age or income. Some of the books are new, though most are used and the prices are very reasonable. Of course the rarer books are more expensive, but you can buy a good paperback for just a few quid.
In one of the front windows there is a display of those old favourites of mine – orange Penguin paperbacks. These used titles range from Jane Austen to D.H. Lawrence and are all well-priced. This is a relief compared to many of the other bookshops in Hay, who stock beautiful books which are far to rare and precious for the average browser to actually buy. But any good city, I think, needs a healthy range of bookshops, giving us choice and variety and the freedom to look at unattainable treasures, but also find a cheap copy of our next read. Nestled in amongst them are Penguin’s line of mugs. Now normally I’m not a fan of cross-promotion and don’t like the cheapening of literature through such obvious money-grabs. That being said … I might have a Great Gatsby mug. What am I – perfect? And I’ll say this for small independents: I know it’s hard for them to make as much money as they used to from books alone, so it must be tempting to branch out a little bit. If that’s what needs to happen to keep places like this afloat, we’ll just have to grin and bear it. I’d much rather have Penguin mugs and tote bags in amongst the books than plastic toys and Starbucks coffee or – the horror – losing the bookshops altogether.
The rest of this room is filled with a few different sections, including poetry and some fiction, though the majority of it is in the back room. There are some rarer editions of novels here as well as a couple of modern first editions. The selection in this shop is what really sets is apart from other bookshops in Hay. On the shop’s website they say that here is where they store ‘the sexier material: beat, sex, drugs, art, modern firsts, poetry, philosophy, left wing history and the occasional occult work!’ The quirky selection is fun, adventurous and most of all, accessible, since the bookshop is so friendly and homey.
Up a few steps is a room with yellow walls. This back room houses the general fiction section as well as – if memory serves – literary criticism and biography. This room is just as neat and tidy, as bright and welcoming as all the others. And, like the others, it’s quite full. A large table in the centre features some excellent staff-chosen selections, piles of books collect along the bottoms of shelves again and the shelves that cover all four walls are packed. It’s a beautiful thing. The selection is, naturally, amazing and includes novels from across the centuries in various editions – beautiful hardcovers to cheap paperback editions. In the end, I walked out with a small paperback edition of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha with a very cool cover which only cost £3. My second purchase here was one of those nice red-spined Vintage editions of Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin which only cost £4.50.
Now, this is probably just going to reveal my ignorance, but I had never even heard of Christopher Isherwood until about a moth ago. I was browsing in the Foyles on the Southbank when I discovered him. I read the backs of Goodbye to Berlin and Mr Norris Changes Trains and was intrigued, but went on with my day. Now have you ever had that experience where you swear you’ve never heard of something in your life until one day you do and then it’s everywhere? Well, it was like that with Isherwood. Another instance of Book Fate. I have learned in my book-hunting escapades that if a book reaches out to you on a few separate occasions, you really ought to give it a chance; it’s trying so hard! I knew I had made the right decision in trusting the Fates when the friendly bookseller at the till gave my selections and approving nod and said ‘Two brilliant books.’ I felt a bit bad taking the credit; as with most of the best things in life, I didn’t find them, they found me.