Astley Book Farm

IMG_0002What more could anyone ever ask than a book shop combined with a tea room which sells home made cakes?  Is there any better definition of heaven?  If so, I don’t think I’ve come across it and neither do I think I want to.

Having nothing better to do with my day :-), yesterday I went over to the Astley Book Farm, which, for those of you who know my neck of the woods, is between Meridan and Nuneaton and for those of you who don’t, lies bang smack in the middle of George Eliot country.  It is one of the biggest second hand book shops in Britain and a place that you should only ever enter after having already negotiated an overdraft with your bank manager.

IMG_0003It takes me about an hour to get there so of course the first necessity is a visit to the tearoom for what Pooh Bear would have described as a little something.  I would describe it as a very large slice of fruit cake.  They don’t do things by halves anywhere in this shop.  Please also pay heed to the proper teapot.  I notice these things. Tea out of one of those metal contraptions just doesn’t taste the same.

IMG_0004Suitably fed and watered you then move out of the refreshment area and into the main body of the bookshop.  It is advisable to bring a ball of twine with you because otherwise you may never find your way out of the labyrinthine layout of rooms and the shelves within those rooms.  I found it too complex to get any good pictures but if you follow the link above onto their website you will get some idea of what it is like.  In fact, there are so many books here that I find it a good idea to go over with at the very least a wish list of the authors whose works I might be looking for.  It would take you a full day to make your way carefully through all the nooks and crannies and so just lighting on one of those really special finds takes hard work here.

IMG_0005One area to which I am always drawn is the section where they keep all the volumes published by the Folio Society. They still tend to cost more than I can afford, but nevertheless I can always dream – this time most particularly about a lovely set of Andrew Lang’s collections of fairytales.  I suppose I might just have been able to buy one, but how would I ever have chosen which?  Also, tucked away up on the top right is a complete Pepys Diary.  I tell you, I am still lusting now.

IMG_0006So, what did I come away with?  I was very good and only collected four more volumes for the tbr pile.  The one on top is a volume of essays by Anne Fadiman, At Large and At Small.  I bought her collection Ex Libris some years ago and had to force myself to eke the essays out so as not to gorge on them all at once and make myself sick.  These are not in the main essays about books and reading, but I liked her style enough to want to read more whatever she might be writing about.  Besides, I was only complaining to a friend earlier in the week that I didn’t read enough essays so I’m hoping that these will kick start a habit.

Second in the pile is Laura Wilson’s first novel, A Little Death.  I’ve read and loved all of her DI Stratton books but haven’t read any of her other works.  Like the Stratton novels this is also crime fiction set in London and near enough in the period of her most recent book, the mid 1950s.  This is the time of my own childhood and so I’m going to be fascinated to see what memories it recalls.  If I remember correctly, Litlove was very complementary about this and so with a recommendation as strong as that it is probably the purchase to which I will turn first.

Then there is an early novel by Patrick Gale, The Facts of Life.  I only ‘discovered’ Gale in 2007 when he published Notes From an Exhibition, which I absolutely loved, so I have quite a back catalogue to explore.  Like Notes this book is concerned with a creative artist, in this instance a composer, Edward Pepper, exiled from his native Germany during the war.  Pepper marries an English woman and together they set up home in a bizarre folly which over the following decades is witness to the twists and turns of family life through the generations.  Gale is particularly good at letting character reveal itself through snapshots of events that take place over an extended period of time and I’m hoping that this hefty book (well over 500 pages) will work in the same way.

Finally, my pick from the remainders bin, a Peter Carey that I haven’t yet read, My Life as a Fake.  This is a good hardback copy that cost me only a pound because apparently they can’t get rid of Carey’s work.  I pause to shake my head in wonderment at the folly of North Warwickshire readers.  I love Carey and this is practically the last novel on the list needed to give me a full set of his works.  Using as a springboard an actual hoax that was perpetrated in Australia in the 1940s, Carey tells the story of a conservative young poet who decides to teach the literary establishment a lesson about pretension and authenticity by writing a sequence of lurid verses that he claims are the output of a working class poet conveniently dead at twenty-four.  Not only is everyone taken in by these works but the editor of the magazine that publishes them is prosecuted for obscenity.  However, in the middle of the trial a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to the fake picture of the poet appears and claims to be the writer himself.  No doubt, the twists and the turns start from there.

So, not a bad haul, I think.  After several beautiful days it is now pouring down here so there is nothing to take me out and nothing to get in the way of settling down to a very good read.

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32 thoughts on “Astley Book Farm

  1. The Book Farm sounds amazing. Alas it’s not too local for me from Essex but I’ll plan ahead and the distance will give me a good excuse to spend a lot of time in it!! I share your views on Peter Carey – I think he’s great. My Life As A Fake is really good though my favourite of his is Parrot and Olivier In America. I loved that book.

    • The trouble is, Gemma, that you don’t just spend time there you spend money as well – in my case, usually more than I can afford.

      • Yes that’s the trouble, isn’t it? I always have to exercise self-restraint when I go into a bookshop, otherwise I’d spend far too much…!

  2. This is just the kind of bookshop I was thinking of starting! Although, mine would be considerably smaller.. like a cozy living room..
    If I ever find myself around Warwickshire I now know where to head first. :)

    • Oh, do Anna. If you look at the background of the picture of the cake you can see that they have a wonderful old stove in there just right for keeping you cosy in the tearoom. Mind you, the outer reaches of the shop can get fairly cold in the winter.

  3. The book shop sounds wonderful and I’ll definitely keep it in mind if I’m ever in that part of the country. I admire your restraint in only coming away with four books!

    • Needs must, I’m afraid, Helen. I know Erasmus always put books before food, but I’m not that dedicated. Besides, I can’t read if I’m hungry!

  4. Alex, I am thinking of planning a trip around this bookshop :) Actually, I was just reading a review of the revival of Skylight that just opened in London – and wondering if I could mortgage something for a trip over to see it. I could combine it with bookshopping – if I had anything mortgageable.

    • It won’t help with the bookshop, Lisa (although it would be lovely to meet up there!) but do you know that the National Theatre are doing a live screening of Skylight? I think it’s either right at the end of July or the beginning of August. Are you anywhere near a cinema that shows these?

      • I didn’t know about the screening, thank you! I will definitely check on that. I know we have a theater in town that has hosted some.

  5. What a lovely place and what a lovely day you had. Living in France, though it has many pluses, does not permit me to trawl this kind of place — for English books, anyway. I’m a huge fan of Laura Wilson, especially the Stratton books, and have loved what I’ve read of Carey, which does not include this one — I shall remedy that. I didn’t get on with Notes from an Exhibition, but maybe I’d like this one. Anyway thanks — all vey inspiring.

    • Did you read Carey’s last novel, Harriet, The Chemistry of Tears? It was very unusual for him, but I really enjoyed it. No one else seemed to take any notice of it and I would really like to get another point of view on it.

  6. I haven’t heard of this bookshop before!!! Why not, when I lived in Buckinghamshire it wouldn’t have been too difficult to get to it, now it’s about 4.5 hours!! Well, next time we’re travelling down I hope we’ll manage to fit in a stop there!

    Still, we’re not far from Barter Books, which has a cafe – not proper teapots, but lovely coffee and cakes etc. and many books. You’ve reminded me that I have Notes from an Exhibition still to read – must get round to it soon,

    • I think it’s only been open for around ten years, Margaret, and when I first remember it it was only what is now the children’s hayloft. I’ve been to Barter Books just the once about twelve or thirteen years ago. It is definitely bigger but it was freezing cold when I was there and browsing was not the pleasant occupation it should be.

      • Glad you had a lovely day When you find a bookshop like that it is the second visit that is the best – you can enjoy it (even) more. A good haul of books to enjoy too.

        • That’s true, Ian. I do have a better idea of what is likely to be available now than when I first went there. The difference between a secondhand shop and an ordinary book shop though is that you never know what they will or won’t have in stock. It is all so much more unpredictable.

    • This is why you have to give the shop a full day, Stefanie, so that you can justify a return visit to the teashop to reinforce your inner being before you set off on the journey home.

    • I know what you mean, Jane, because unless I go with an idea of what I want to buy I can find it too big to find anything. But anywhere that offers tea and cake as well as books has to be a good thing really.

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