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 Book Shops > Wigtown Booksellers Respond

Wigtown Booksellers Respond

I've just been reading Harry Bell's description of his trip to Wigtown and there are a couple of comments I wish to make.

Some people who visit Book Towns seem to feel the need to criticise or to share the disappointment they feel in not having obtained a bargain, though I can remember one bookseller in Wigtown being heavily criticised for selling collectible books too cheaply. I do find it rather strange that people who wouldn't dream of writing a critique of an individual bookshop seem to regard any Book Town as a legitimate target.

Reading Lasses has been in existence since the start of Wigtown Book Town - the shop is listed in the leaflet. There are current leaflets in all the book shops and we always offer these to visitors.

Harry doesn't make any mention of visiting my shop and several others in Wigtown which I know were open on that day. (The loo painting sort of identifies the date of the visitation) However he did visit the Book Vaults, which I also run ,(it has a variety of stock from other booksellers who operate book shops elsewhere) and I suspect he may be one of the two 'gentlemen' who barely glanced at the books in the shop and were rather less than polite when refused access to the stock room. I know some people just hate looking at stock that has been properly priced and put on the shelf for sale but I think that most booksellers object to visitors barging into areas clearly marked 'Private'.

I'm not sure what Harry expected to find in Wigtown - possibly a scarce book lying unrecognized in a cardboard box to be bought for a song - in which case I'm rather pleased that he was disappointed.

Fortunately most of the genuine book buyers who visit the town do not share his experience, find plenty of books in Wigtown to buy and return to buy more. Wigtown is a great place to visit - it certainly needs more than a day to look around the shops properly and if you speak to the booksellers you will find that they are always pleased to help and will direct you to other shops that might have the books that interest you. Of course we don't have the same volume or variety as Hay which has existed as a Book Town since the sixties - but we're getting there.

Try visiting - maybe in May 2004 when we're hosting the International Book Town Festival.

Regards, Moi McCarty

13 North Main Street


I read with interest Harry's account of a trip to Wigtown with John and Kevin if for no other reason than the bard's stricture to try to see ourselves as others see us. I am sorry that they were disappointed and found so little to amuse, enlighten or buy.

I write as the proprietor of what is flatteringly called 'the' science fiction shop. Sadly this accolade is not mine to claim as there are two other shops here that both have a larger stock (Aa1 and Transformer). Harry is correct, the shelves with the playful perspective are loaded (not yet filled) with poetry books. My stock of sci-fi is larger than would fit and so is all together in the larger of my two rooms. I'm sorry Harry felt it was tucked away in a back room as the room is, in my experience, at the front. If he had ventured into one of my back rooms he may well of met our dog who (unlike the dog of the Mings) doesn't usually have a bone to keep him amused and likes to welcome visitors with a firm grip.

It is a real source of concern that he feels Wigtown is "self-advertised as Scotland's answer to Hay-on-Wye". Except for a central role for books, as far as I know, it is not nor has ever claimed to be. There are connections between the two places and, inevitably, parallels are drawn however the differences are great and to the benefit of both. Similarly I'm not sure where the number 29 comes from as regards bookshops. Notices, leaflets and advertising are difficult things: I myself have had reasonably large notices saying 'closed' completely ignored or misunderstood. On the other hand what is or is not a bookshop is a matter of debate: if size matters then I am not a bookshop. I would tend to agree that 'Bits Of Wood' is not a bookshop although it does have a room full of books. 'Box Of Frogs' is a bookshop and the bulk of its turnover is derived from books. Its window display does feature jigsaw puzzles and games as it has to persuade some people that it is not only a bookshop.

I am also sorry to learn that the writer has such fears about the security of the contents of his scrotal sack though pleased that,as a result of his interest in aesthetics, he puts so much time and effort into considering the position of toilet seats. The nagging itch of accuracy forces me to point out that the cafe is mentioned three times in the brochure.

The tale is a source of considerable amusement reminding me as much of our present government's September Dossier as anything else. As with all jokes, it has strands of truth within it and, unlike the Dossier, is rendered with a degree of panache. Sadly I can also see the gritty granules of innaccuracy and ommission (though these do add to its rich texture). I do not wish in any way to imply there is nothing to be learnt or that it gives a false impression of their reaction to our town, just that first impressions may need qualification and first hand reports sometimes refer to what is on brain rather than on hand.

regards, Ian

p.s. the above was in response to the first message; in response to its expansion, I am sorry that things seem to have worsened but I note that the Mings are not directly quoted and so are villified in absentia. I would be glad to receive direct examples of 'woeful posturing' or similar and especially any factual innaccuracies that have their original source within Wigtown.


I write as the feminist (and proud of it) proprietor of ReadingLasses, the first 'new' secondhand bookshop to open since Wigtown being awarded the status of Scotland's national Book Town.

I have to confess to having at first dismissed the copy of 'Harry's email' that was circulated to us all, courtesy of Ming Books for it displayed a level of ignorance not worthy of reply: fake Scottish accents are surely a childhood activity; to be concerned about the placing of the toilet seat is hardly radical, humorous or imaginative; to not know that the person helping the proprietor at The Cauldron is Dutch not German indicates the lack of meaningful conversation that took place there; to not notice ReadingLasses in all the Book Town publicity, and then write about it, is slovenly. And so on.

But, Harry's message has been responded to, as I would expect, quite professionally by my colleague booksellers here in Wigtown. So I too have decided to respond.

First, to just put the record straight, ReadingLasses specialises in women's studies and social sciences. Women's studies includes feminist theory but is not defined by it. It also includes: women's biographies; short stories, letters and diaries by women, poetry by women ..... Social Sciences includes sociology and social theory, psychology, anthropology, history, literary criticism, philosophy, religions, media studies, education, health, social policy, social work ....... If Harry or his friend had not been so preoccupied with playing with the toilet seat after gorging on chocolate cake, then perhaps he would have had opportunity to peruse the stock more carefully.

Second, it is a pity that Harry felt confident to write publicly about Wigtown without, apparently, visiting many of the shops. In Wigtown, we not only have the only second-hand women's studies bookshop outside London, we also have the largest science fiction collection in Scotland. I hear a liot from customers - and also from people sitting in the cafe part of my bookshop-cafe - and am complemented by a customer from Austria on the Education stock at ReadingLasses, by a customer from Canada on the sociology and social theory stock at ReadingLasses, 'what a haven' was the comment from one customer who returned to the cafe having visited Transformer (missed by Harry and his friends), by a customer from the States on the quality of the political and constitutional history stock at Web Books (also missed by Harry and his friends), on the knowledgeable and informed advice provided to customers by Moi McCarty (also missed by Harry and his friends). I constantly hear expressions of delight and excitement as customers exchange experiences over luch of having found just that book they'd been looking for. Generally customers find the town delightful, find it different to but just as enjoyable and valuable for book-buying as Hay-on Wye (and I am not tempted at all to slag off other book towns in order to ptomote the one that I am so committed to).

I appreciate advice, and indeed have a visitors book to encourage comments from customers:

'the first of many visits to Wigtown!' Northumberland
'Will be back!' Isle of Man
'Wonderful collection' Elgin
' Very good resource' Lancashire
'Best bookshop I've been in for a long time' Galashiels
'I wish Wigtown were 100 miles further east' North Berwick
'The most erudite and stimulating bookshop' Glasgow
'Best selection of women's books in Scotland' Dundee
'Terrific collection' Liverpool 'Excellente, vitamines intellectuales' Frejus, France
'Very interesting collection of women's fiction' Montana USA 'Wonderful find' Newcastle upon Tyne
'Terrific collection' Toronto, Canada
'A fine collection of books. Could spend all day here' Cheltenham 'A great find - will be back' Dorset
'So many books - so little time' Tyne & Wear
'I could stay here for days' Plymouth
'Just discovered Wigtown, wonderful place' Edinburgh
'An Aladdins Cave - I wished i lived nearer' Perth
'Impressive, worth coming here' Spain
'How lovely to find such a place in such a lovely part of the country' Edinburgh'
'Love it' Luxemburg.

I could continue.... Next time Harry, come with more discerning friends with time to really look round all the shops. You will be most welcome.

With best wishes, Angela Everitt

Reading Lasses
17 South South Main Street

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