(...) but it behoves a man who wants to see wonders sometimes to go out of his way.
- Sir John Mandeville, The Travels (translated by C. W. R. D. Moseley)
In Fjærland, Western Norway, nestled in a fjord under looming mountains, snow-clad even in the summer months, lies the Norwegian book town, a range of second-hand book shops comprising the centerpiece of the small rural community of Fjærland. The book town was founded in 1995 and modelled after the Welsh village Hay-on-Wye which took its first modest stepts toward a book community in the 1960s. The Norwegian book town boasts its approximately four kilometers of books, and buildings of various kinds - barn, bank, post office - are converted into charming shops with numerous nooks and crannies and small hidden gems.
The book shop "Thousand nights and a night", home of many good books
Perhaps needless to say, the Norwegian book town is one of my favourite places in the whole world, and although I try not to go there very often, for economic reasons, I'm always very pleased to saunter among the numerous shelves, half-searching for new treasure with Serendipity as my main method. This is often an exercise in self-restraint. Being a voracious reader and a committed bibliophile, I take interest in almost any kind of books and lest common sense got the better of me, I would descend into economic ruin upon every visit.
Fjøsen, i.e. The Barn
Although my favourite part about the book town is the vast amount of books - to me a sacred manifestation of the divine creativity with which humanity is blessed - I also find the surroundings very pleasing. Being a Western Norwegian, I feel at home among mountains, fjords and wooden houses erected in the first half of the 20th century. I like the rural Norwegian architecture, I like how the buildings have negotiated their positions between fields, woods and salt water. I like that there is a small communal green area where one can enjoy a book while casting the occasional glance towards the mountains.
Aside from these attractions, I am also very pleased with the literary diversity that the book town can offer. I have found a number of fascinating books in both Norwegian and English, some of which I would not expect to see in a remote Western Norwegian book shop. Among the gems I have found there are Jorge Luis Borge's collected fictions, the complete Wakefield Mystery Plays, Charles Homer Haskins' medievalist classic The Renaissance of the 12th century and the complete poems of Thomas Moore and Elizabeth Barren Browning, to mention just a few. There is also a lovely little shop filled with second-hand comic books, and I always make sure to drop by and have a look around.
I love the Norwegian book town for all these reasons and many more. An ardent lover of books, I always find a great peace when walking along rows fully stacked with books of various kinds, being reminded of mankind's tireless fondness for invention, creation, poetry in all its numerous forms, and to find this kind of solace in a small, distant Norwegian farming community, must be like finding a life-giving oasis in the middle of the Saharan desert. Fjærland is a good way away from the larger communities of the Western Fjords, but, as John Mandeville reminds us, sometimes it is necessary to go that distance when one wishes to see wonders.