Shirley

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (Smith, Elder & Co., first published 1849)

Introduced by Michael Evans

‘My Booktacular Week’

This week, I was fortunate enough to work with Emma Balch, who is opening a brilliant sounding museum specialising in the story behind books. It’ll be sure to be somewhere I will be eager to visit when it opens.

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On Tuesday, we first went to Berrington Press. This is a family- run printing firm, which prints on paper the old-fashioned way. I found it absolutely fascinating and breath-taking thinking about how much time it would’ve taken to print just a single page, versus how long it must take to print now, using a computer.

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There, it was all done by hand, using wood and metal versions of the letters in all their different fonts and sizes, and pressing them on paper with ink to make an impression. Think of all the time and money the printers would have invested in one book, and then think that they would have had to make some sort of profit. This would understandably make one simple book – that we all take for granted these days – very expensive. It was honestly an eye-opening experience, and has ensured that I will never take my Kindle books that only cost about £3 or so, for granted. 

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Handling an early edition of Shirley by Currer Bell at Wormhill Books

We also visited Wormhill Books, an online book dealership based on a farm, which was a lovely and enriching experience. We learned a bit about how the online book trade works, and I found it extremely heart-warming, as the place itself is most likely something that a lot of modern people, especially young people my age, would think is a very basic way of living and turn their back on. However, the owner Chris was so lovely, and all he was doing was following his passion, despite the fact that he doesn’t get much recognition for it. This is a lesson I think we should all take into account. We should all try our best to just follow our individual passions, and live the way we feel works for us, despite the possible prejudices we may experience from others.

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On Wednesday we visited the Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral, which is an extensive library of medieval books. It was fascinating to learn about how books used to be made, and to learn a bit about the culture and beliefs of the time. It was very pleasing to see the books being kept so well.

The next day, we visited some bookshops in Hay, which was just the icing on the cake for me. One bookshop, a children’s bookshop which sells secondhand children’s books, and another selling all kinds of books in general.

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The Children’s Bookshop was a lovely place, and has many old classics shelved. I love just holding a book I know, knowing that among the pages, is a story that I know and love, and a lot of them were here. I was glad to find a few Jacqueline Wilson books there, and of course there were your Enid Blytons, Ann Of Green Gables, Roald Dahls, Ladybirds, and many others.

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Addyman Books was very special indeed. It had a room for each genre, and treated books seriously, as they so justly deserve to be treated. The decor around the shop was spectacular, especially for a hard-to-please blind person such as myself. There was spectacular steampunk decor, in the form of wheels and nobs, there were bats, there were chains, there were life-sized cardboard cut-outs, and so much more. They further pleased me by selling an array of book-themed merchandise, and I am a sucker for any merchandise, especially book-themed.*

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All in all, it has been an absolutely spectacular week for me, and I am now able to say that I am in love with the town of Hay, and am determined to go back again. I’d really like to thank Emma, for making this happen, and all the owners of everywhere we visited, for putting up with us.

Happy reading everyone.

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*Thank you to Anne at Addyman Books (and Sarah at Berrington Press) for the gifts!

Michael Evans is a student at the Royal College for the Blind in Hereford.

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