A Book of Book Lists

A Book of Book Lists by Alex Johnson (British Library, 2017)

Introduced by Alex Johnson


While I was researching my previous book, Improbable Libraries, I kept coming across intriguing collections of books and occasional lists of them which made me stop and think.

I’ve always disliked the ’50 books you must read before you’re 50′ kind of list which seem lazy and hugely subjective, so wanted to offer a kind of personal correction to them.

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Like many readers, when I go to somebody’s house, I always enjoy looking at what books they have on their shelves (or indeed what they haven’t) and felt that a book which was more along those lines, something which told stories about books rather than just listing them, would do well (and happily The British Library agreed with me!).

So rather than making suggestions, these are mini-collections which have a tale to tell. To be honest, I find some of the tales are more interesting than the lists, for example Napoleon’s Travelling Libraries.



A Book of Book Lists is available from all the usual places, but ideally from your local independent bookshop or The British Library. Dare I say, it’s the ideal Christmas present?


Alex’s book on Book Towns (featuring Hay-on-Wye, of course) will be published by Francis Lincoln in April 2018. Advance copies will be on sale at a pre-launch event for the book at the Baskerville Wayzgoose on Saturday 31st March 2018.

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Forty-five paradises of the printed word

Around 40 semi-official Book Towns now exist around the world, with most concentrated in Europe, South-East Asia, North America and Australia, but until now, there has been no directory of their location, history and charm. Book Towns takes readers on a richly illustrated tour of these captivating literary towns, outlining the history and development of each community, as well as offering practical travel advice.

Many Book Towns have emerged in areas of marked attraction, such as Ureña in Spain or Fjaerland in Norway, where bookshops have been set up in buildings including former ferry waiting rooms and banks. The views of the nearby glacier and dramatic mountains are superb. Although the UK has the best known examples at Hay, Wigtown and Sedbergh, the book has a broad international appeal, featuring locations such as Jimbochu in Japan, College Street in Calcutta, and major unofficial ‘book cities’ such as Buenos Aires.

Alex Johnson is a journalist, blogger and the author of A Book of Book ListsImprobable LibrariesBookshelf, and Shedworking: The Alternative Workplace Revolution. He runs the web sites Shedworking at www.shedworking.co.uk and Bookshelf at www.onthebookshelf.co.uk. Alex lives in St Albans, London with his wife, three children, and plenty of books from all over the world.

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