Yes, that’s the famous story by Robert A. Heinlein. I was prompted to use it for this next post in A Bookish Week Off, because on Monday 30 June I really did land amongst the green hills of Earth – in a village called Coleshill, in Warwickshire!
Coleshill is located on a ridge between the rivers Cole and Blythe which converge to the north with the River Tame. It is just to the east of the border with West Midlands county, and 11 miles to the east of Birmingham; in fact it’s on the number 70 bus route between Birmingham and Solihull, which is what I used to get there; it took about 40 minutes from the stop in Priory Street Queensway, just down from the nicely airconditioned Forbidden Planet, which is much more entertaining to wait in than a bus stop!
Handily, the 70 drops off right in Coleshill High Street – and thankfully a very short walk from the single public toilet in the village, one of those robot bogs that require a 10p coin in the slot. Just as well I had 10p in my pocket! I did wonder whether it might be already occupied by a Third Stage Guild Navigator, but thankfully not as my legs were so crossed by then that I was just about ready to fold space!
Unlike a lot of High Streets, this one is really high and drops away sharply towards Birmingham, and on the other side towards the open countryside of Warwickshire, where there are many country walks to be had.
There are a couple of small parks, a quaint Town Hall of what looks like mock half-timbered construction so is probably early 20th century and the lovely 13th century parish Church of St Peter and St Paul at the top of the Market Square. Quite a few historic buildings are broken up occasionally by horrible modern banks, like so many places. Despite this it’s a pretty village, and the Wikipedia photo really doesn’t do it any justice.
There are also a few nice pubs and a mix of shops, mostly along the High Street. One of these was the object of my expedition, Books Revisited at number 110, which is one of the ever-growing breed of specialist charity bookshop which seem to be filling the niche of so many long-established second-hand bookshops which have disappeared rapidly over the past decade.
Books Revisited supports the Mary Ann Evans Hospice at Nuneaton, and is a cracking little shop with friendly mostly volunteer staff. They have 4 rooms, two dedicated to non-fiction and one children’s/Young Adult fiction, and the front room of the shop is packed with mostly general and crime fiction, though there is a single, slim bay with mostly fantasy and a bit of horror, and the odd science fiction book.
I usually look for hardback SF and it was here on this bay that I spotted Robert Silverberg’s Worlds of Wonder ‘exploring the craft of science fiction’. Nice one! I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t really anything else that took my fancy so asked if there was anything else they had. “Oh, yes!” was the answer, and I was taken upstairs to the stock sorting room where there were two bookcases full of hardbacks and paperbacks, also piled on the floor, and a couple of big cardboard boxes full of books. The friendly volunteer who showed me upstairs left me to have a dig and I spent a pleasant twenty minutes poking through the goodies.
There was a lot of fantasy, not really something I am looking for at the moment, but also quite a few vintage SF paperbacks. Now I always tell people that these days I prefer my Kindle to paperbacks, I’d rather buy a hardback if I can get one, but some of these old paperbacks, mostly in surprisingly good condition, reminded of my school days when back in the 1970s I collected three hundred paperbacks by the age of 16, mostly science fiction but also fantasy and word-and-sorcery, so I decided I might as well take a few back with me as mementos, after all I’d made a long trek from Bloxwich.
Some of the stories in these 1960s-1980s paperbacks date as far back as the 1930s-1950s, real classics, albeit may of them minor classics.
The prices were good, and both hardbacks and paperbacks were priced at £1.50 each which seemed a bit odd but there you are.
In the end I spent just a tenner as I was just a little way into my week as a ‘book tourist’ – if I’d been looking for fantasy paperbacks I’d have needed a wheelbarrow – and it’s just as well that I don’t buy Doctor Who tie-in books because there was a big box of them and I would have really been in trouble!
My haul for the day, after a very pleasant walk round historic and surprisingly scenic Coleshill as well as a peaceful packed lunch eaten near the church, was three hardbacks: the aforementioned Robert Silverberg tome, Arthur C. Clarke & Frederik Pohl’s The Last Theorem and A Reasonable World by a childhood favourite of mine, Damon Knight. Paperbacks I also chose, mostly of 1960s-80s vintage, were The Seedling Stars by James Blish, Null-A Three by A.E. Van Vogt, Rockets in Ursa Major by Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle, Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin and an anthology, The Dark Side, with early stories by Bradbury, Heinlein, Blish, Knight, Sturgeon and Wells, all in great condition, the paperbacks being apparently mostly unread. Not bad for a tenner all in!
After popping into the Co-op for a cold drink and a snack I waited for the next bus back to Brummagem and wended my bus-weary but otherwise very happy way back home, well-satisfied with a couple of hours spent pottering about a very nice little bookshop and a very nice little village in perfect summer weather.
I deliberately didn’t phone ahead to ask what they’d got in stock at Books Revisited, and this week I’m not doing that with any of the shops I visit – it’s the thrill of the chase! You may prefer to do otherwise if you’re travelling a distance. It certainly pays to ask when you get there, though, as I discovered upstairs! What I did find, together with the pleasantness of the village, made it, for me, well worth the journey.
For more info, see: