Alex Johnson's charming book actually has a subtitle. The book is Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word. His book, with its colorful photos, is actually a travelogue for those of us who probably won't get to Australia or France or Spain, or a dozen other countries to visit the book towns. But armchair travelers who appreciate bookstores will enjoy the book.
The book towns Johnson covers are not towns devoted only to bookstores. Most of them are "A small town usually rural and scenic, full of bookshops and book-related industries." Those industries include the booksellers, but also calligraphers, bookbinders, curators, publishers and architects. They may have been developed to save the printed book, but also to keep communities alive, communities that no longer had visitors or businesses.
Hay-on-Wye is covered, naturally. Book towns as we know them originated there, in Wales, in the 1960s. That's the book town that has become famous, with a festival, and a number of bookstores and related shops. But, many of the towns now have literary festivals of some sort. Johnson uses just four or five pages to show photos and tell the history of towns in Switzerland, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Australia, Germany, the United States, South Korea, and other countries. Lilleputhammer in Norway is a children's book town where all the houses are built at quarter size, appearing as they did in the 1930s.
Interested in traveling to any of the towns? Johnson also provides information about each town. He includes websites and transportation information. It would be smart to check the websites before heading out. Some of the towns are no longer as active as they once were, while others are flourishing.
If you love bookstores and libraries, and appreciate people who value the printed word, you might want to pick up a copy of Book Towns. Alex Johnson's stories and the photos will make you want to pack up and head to the nearest book town.
Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word by Alex Johnson. Frances Lincoln, 2018. ISBN 9780711238930 (hardcover), 192p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.