Five Of The Best Book Covers Of All Time

by Retail, Customer Relations & PR Manager Janey Thornton

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – but it’s safe to say we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Book cover design is an art often overlooked by the general public, but important in its own right. It requires clear understanding of a text and the ability to accurately represent that understanding, transferring it to imagery.  For this week’s post, I’ve explored some of the most iconic book covers ever designed – and the people who created them.

The Bell Jar (Faber & Faber 1966) – designed by Shirley Tucker



Arguably one of the most distinctive book jackets ever made, the cover for Sylvia Plath’s dark novel The Bell Jar is a bold and simplistic representation of Plath’s main theme – the depression engulfing her novel’s protagonist Esther Greenwood.

The cover’s designer Shirley Tucker worked as a book jacket designer at the publishing company Faber from 1959 to her retirement in 1987. Before then, she had studied graphic art at the Royal College. You can hear her recollecting her time spent working on The Bell Jar in the video below.


IQ84 by Haruki Murakami (Knopf Doubleday 2010) – designed by Chipp Kidd


Simplicity strikes again in this cover by the wonderful New York city-based designer Chipp Kidd. Kidd is one of the most prolific book cover designers in American history, having first joined the Knopf design team in 1986. He averages 75 book covers a year and has previously designed covers for Bret Easton Ellis, Cormac McCarthy, John Updike, David Sedaris and Donna Tartt.

He discusses his work on IQ84 in the video below.

Jaws by Peter Benchley (Bantam Books 1974) – designed by Roger Kastel



Arguably one of the most famous images in popular culture to come out of the 20th century, Roger Kastel’s design for the novel Jaws was so eye-catching it was adopted for the film adaptation.

Kastel designed his first book covers for Simon Schuster in the 1960s, fresh off the back of serving in the Korean War. His career took off big time, however, in the 1970s after Jaws was published and he attracted the attention of every major publishing house in New York.



A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (Penguin 1972) – designed by David Pelham


David Pelham worked as Penguin’s Fiction Art Director from 1968 to 1979. He had not been expecting to design the cover for Anthony Burgess’ bizarre and shocking ninth novel, but found himself lumped with the project after the designer he had given the job to ‘submitted a very poor job very late.’

Forced to come up with a cover design literally overnight, Pelham chose to depict the novel’s protagonist Alex on the front cover with a cog for an eye – an allusion to the book’s title, and also a play on the fact Alex wears black mascara.

Agatha Christie Paperback Editions (Fontana 1962-1982 ) – by Tom Adams 


Commissioned in 1962 to produce a cover for the paperback edition of Agatha Christie’s Murder is Announced, Tom Adams went on to design Christie covers for twenty years.

Unlike Christie’s more conservative publishers in the US, PocketBooks, her UK publisher Fontana encouraged Adams’ creativity when it came to his covers – resulting in some of the most wacky and weird book covers designed in that period.

The creative freedom given to him by Fontana resulted in one of the most impressive and iconic series of covers ever created by a single designer – iconic in their haunting and dramatic eeriness, and totally capturing the spirit of Christie’s writing.

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For more information about Bookbarn International, you can click here to visit our website.

We also offer a bulk buying service, called Books By The Yard, which you can visit here.


WIN a delicious hamper packed with tasty treats!

Here at Bookbarn, we love a good quiz.

Our next trivia quiz, ‘Let’s Get Quizzical’ will be held on Thursday 22nd February at 7pm – and this time, the competition gets serious!

That’s because the prize for the winning team is an entire hamper jam-packed with delicious and decadent treats fit for a king or queen.

It’s also our Retail Manager Janey’s last time co-hosting the quiz, as she is set to emigrate to New Zealand in March. We hope to see you there answering her questions one last time!

Entry to the quiz is just £2 per person. To book, you can call us on 01761 451 777 or email

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To learn more about us, you can visit our website here.

10 of the Best Films Inspired by Books

– By Dan Kiernan, Bookseller

The cinema, it seems, is dominated by books. If the latest release in your local multiplex isn’t a sequel, it’s safe to assume it’s based on a book. While it may be true that ‘Hollywood has run out of ideas’, and in response has flooded the market with mediocre adaptations of the latest bestseller or rediscovered comic book hero, I don’t think that tells the whole story. Occasionally filmmakers come across something in a book that strikes them as uniquely cinematic, and are inspired to transfer yellowed pages to the silver screen. The result can often be a film that does justice to the original book, and sometimes a film even better than its inspiration. So, in no particular order, here are ten of the best book adaptations:

  1. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King (1982) – The Shawshank Redemption by Frank Darabont (1994)

Based on a novella from the same collection that spawned the film Stand by Me, this is the story of how the wrongfully imprisoned Andy Drufesne endures four brutal and harrowing decades of prison before finding salvation and release. The film is mostly true to the text, though notably differs in the casting of Morgan Freeman as character who in the book is a ginger-haired irishman. The choice ultimately pays off, with his narration being a perfect accompaniment to King’s prose.

  1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) – Rebecca by Alfred Hitchcock (1940)

This gothic tale of an unnamed woman haunted by the memory of her husband’s late wife was a bestseller when first published, prompting Hollywood to secure the screen rights soon after. This is the second of three films by Hitchcock based on works by Daphne du Maurier (the other two being Jamaica Inn and The Birds), and despite the Hollywood Production Code blemishing the story’s big reveal, to my mind it is the most faithful and best of the trio. The atmosphere is dark, brooding, and the portrayal of Mrs Danvers, the main antagonist, is one the creepiest ever captured in print or on screen.

  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Phillip K. Dick (1968) – Bladerunner by Ridley Scott (1982)

While both book and film follow Rick Deckard hunting down rogue androids and deal with what it means to be human, the similarities between them end there. Dick’s novel has moments of humour and (like most of his work) strangeness, featuring a subplot about a mentally subnormal man who repairs faulty mechanical farm animals (the titular electric sheep). The film, however, focuses on the mystery plot, blending science fiction with film noir embellished it with improvised philosophy and unicorns. Despite the differences, both film and book are profound works of art, and the recent sequel Bladerunner 2049 manages to live up to the standards set by Dick and Scott, while developing the ideas of both further.

  1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865) – Něco z Alenky by Jan Švankmajer (1988)

Alice has been adapted countless times since it was published, ranging from Disney’s beloved 1951 animation to Tim Burton’s less loved 2010 live action and cgi effort. None have ever really taken Carroll’s often sinister wonderland and ran with quite like the Czechoslovakian surrealist Jan Švankmajer, however. His stop motion brings to life characters such as a taxidermied white rabbit in a menacing and dreamlike fashion in keeping with the original story. While the repeated close ups of lips narrating get tiring, the film is a fantastic reminder that a trip down the rabbit hole can often be just as frightening as it is wonderous..

  1. The Prestige by Christopher Priest (1995) – The Prestige by Christopher Nolan (2006)

In the late eighteen hundreds two magicians compete to pull off the ultimate illusion, with dire consequences for each as they enlist deceit, sabotage and even Nikola Tesla (played by David Bowie in the film) to achieve their aims. In transferring the story to screen Christopher and his screenwriter brother Jonathan Nolan managed to structure the plot around the three components of a magic trick (namely the pledge, the turn and the prestige), something which had never occured to the author Christopher Priest, and as he himself admitted, greatly adds to the story.

  1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (1999) – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by Alfonso Cuarón (2004)

The Harry Potter books have all been made into movies, including the recent Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (loosely adapted from a short work by Rowling written for Comic Relief in 2001), and all differ somewhat in quality and faithfulness to text. For me, the third instalment is by far the best on page and on screen. This is when Harry’s story starts to get a little darker, and Cuarón’s cinematography and visuals tread the perfect line between magic and malevolence, managing to avoid the saccharine of the early films and keeping the majority of the plot intact, unlike the later films.

  1. The Godfather by Mario Puzo (1969) – The Godfather, Parts I & II by Francis Ford Coppola (1972 & 1974)

The story of the Corleone family, from a sicilian immigrant’s rise to the top of the mafia to how his son transformed from war hero to crime lord, introduced many to the inner workings of the Cosa Nostra when told by Puzo in his original novel. It wasn’t until Coppola filmed the book as two movies that its impact was truly felt. Often regarded as two of the greatest films ever made, Coppola and Puzo (who wrote the screenplay) shift the plot around so that Vito Corleone’s story of ascension runs parallel to his son Michael’s descent in the second film, rather than opening the story with it as background as is done in the novel, serving as the perfect contrast. There is a third film, but as it is not based on any plot elements found in the novel and also not very good, the less said about it the better.

  1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843) – The Muppet Christmas Carol by Brian Henson (1992)

This seasonal morality tale is infinitely improved by puppets and Michael Caine. Remaining largely faithful to the story, and even including Dickens himself as a narrator (played with the utmost decorum by Gonzo the Great), the Jim Henson Workshop capture the spirit of goodwill to all men permeating the classic. The catchy songs, broad humour and lovable Muppets make this not only a great adaptation, but also the greatest christmas movie of all time. You may believe some other film deserves this title, but I am afraid you are simply wrong. Miracle on 34th Street, Die Hard and the like are all very well and good, but they don’t feature Kermit the Frog ice skating with penguins do they?

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (1968) – 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick (1968)

Strictly speaking, this entry is not an adaptation, nor is either worked inspired by the other. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke collaborated on both simultaneously, the credit each took for the film and book respectively being a mere formality. Both are bold explorations of humanity’s place in the universe, and to fully appreciate one it is best to experience the other, something I believe to be unique in the world of literary adaptations. Both also highlight what each medium does best: the book being more descriptive, allowing you into the thoughts of its characters, while the film is more visceral, moving beyond language by expressing thought through action. Either read or seen, 2001 is a mind boggling and almost spiritual experience.

  1. The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (1998) – Adaptation by Spike Jonze (2002)

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman experienced a serious case of writer’s block when he tried to adapt Orlean’s non-fiction book about the arrest of a group of orchid poachers in Florida. So serious, in fact, that he abandoned the project altogether, writing instead a screenplay about the experience of trying to adapt the book. The film deals with the process of adaptation, truthfulness in self expression while at the same time, and in spite of its meta-textual weirdness, manages to stay true to the book’s themes of longing and disappointment. On top of this, you get Nicolas Cane playing not just one, but two characters as Kaufman and his (fictional) brother – what more could ask for?

Profile: Harry Scherman & The ‘Book of the Month’ Club

-by Janey Thornton

I’ll often pick up a book at Bookbarn with a note saying it was a ‘Book of the Month Club’ book. This week, I thought I’d delve into the history of this club, based in the United States and still existing to this day.  This is what I’ve found out.


In 1926, Montreal-born Harry Scherman co-founded the Book of the Month Club. The core concept was simple – subscribers would be sent a list of five books to choose from per month. Once they had made their choice, their book was mailed to them.

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Harry Scherman

To give an indication of how much of an instant success the company was – it started with 4,000 subscribers but by 1946 had reached an astonishing 550,000.  By 1993, this figure had climbed again to 3 million. Since its first selection in 1926, the club has distributed over 570 million books to subscribers across the United States – so no wonder some of them have ended up at Bookbarn…!

Scherman had initially taken a job as a copywriter at an advertising firm after graduating from college. Through this position, he gained valuable knowledge of and expertise in mail order promotion.  His passion for literature led him to begin to think of ways in which to sell books through the mail. It was shortly after leaving that advertising position that he founded the Book of the Month Club.

Very quickly it became apparent that ‘Book of the Month’ endorsed books were gaining a kind of prestige. Books offered by the club soon began to see their bookstore sales rise as well.  Being a ‘Book of the Month’ became a steadfast way for emerging authors to gain popularity and for publishers to start making serious money.  Many publishers began to give price breaks to the company as a result.

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A vintage ‘Book of the Month Club’ advert

Incredibly, in the 1940s and following the aftermath of WWII, the company continued to grow. BOMC purchased The Non-Fiction Book Club from Henry Holt & Co. in 1948 and integrated it into its own operation. Other new services added around this time included The Travelers Book Club and Metropolitan Miniatures. This involved sets of art reproductions being offered in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By 1951, circulation for Metropolitan Miniatures had exceeded an amazing 100,000. During the next decade the company continued to explore new ventures, establishing Young Readers of America, its first book club for children, in 1952.

By the mid-1950s, books selected by the club included five Nobel Prize winning authors and ten Pulitzer Prize winners. The New York Times celebrated BOMC’s 30th birthday with a booklet charting the club’s history. It’s safe to say that by this point Book of the Month Club had solidified itself as a national brand.

After a brief slump in subscribers owing to the rise of independent bookshops and paperback novels in the US at that time, Harry Scherman died in 1969. His son-in-law Axel Rosin became acting president. As he was Jewish and a trained lawyer, Rosin had fled Germany in 1934 shortly after the issuing of a Nazi decree banning Jews from entering courthouses. During Rosin’s leadership the company’s annual sales doubled and membership reached 1.25 million. He retired in 1979. Growth was steady until the 90s and early 2000s, when Amazon began to eat up a lot of the market share and seriously rival bookstores on a nationwide level.

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The BOMC logo

Today, BOMC exists completely online. Monthly book selections are chosen by a panel of judges and announced on the 1st of each month, with subscribers having until the 7th to make their choice. A new celebrity judge joins the panel each month. The club no longer discloses its membership figures, so it’s difficult to make an assessment of whether or not it has experienced any decline or growth in recent years. However, after being bought by parent company Bookspan in 2016, the company is regarded by many as having been given a new lease of life, with thousands and thousands of followers on social media.

The history of the Book of the Month Club is a rich and interesting one. I’ll think of it now whenever I come across a book which was a BOMC selection. And I hope you will also!

To read my previous profile of a ‘person in books’ – Allen Lane, founder of Penguin Books – click here.

And to visit our website to find out more about us, click here.

We Ask Our Booksellers: What’s Your Favourite Book?

This week, we ask our lovely booksellers about the books which have left an impression on them.

Pippa Slaytor – Bookseller

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernières (1994)


I was sat on a beach in Croatia with all my worldy belongings in a rucksack beside me when I began to read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

It seems to be a book that evokes either a love or a hatred for the story, especially with ‘that unexpected ending’ and I strongly believe the situation you find yourself reading books changes the way you receive them. I was tired, sunburnt, on my own, rather aptly along the Dalmatian coast and had 12 hours to fill before my ferry left.
This book is a depiction of Southern Europe and the day to day life on a small Greek Island throughout WWII. What struck me was the struggle of the enormity of the situation of war and the smaller things in life. How, for some inexplicable reason, the men’s club rules staying the same despite being bombed daily almost matters more than the war itself. Pelagia, the feisty and unwavering heroine, had me both shouting at her for her choices and then feeling her pain within the same chapter. She is one of my favourite female characters, and her story like so many untold stories from the Second World War is both inspiring and heartbreaking.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is not an easy-going book or a ‘light-read’ but I would say that is portrays an uplifting and hopeful side of humanity that exists no matter how dark the times may be. I cannot classify it into a genre but instead say that it is an honest portrayal of life: it will make you happy, sad and everything else in-between.
And when I reached the end, I turned back to the start and read it all over again.

Emma Bilsborough – Retail Team Leader

One Day – David Nicholls (2009)

bookI read this book when I was 17 and in college, coming to terms with changing friendships and having to make decisions about my future. The timing may have contributed to my love for this story, it put a lot of my teenage problems into perspective. I love a book that you can see yourself reflected in – and this does that perfectly for me.

I had always loved reading, since I was little, and at this point in my life I was deep into reading Young Adult fiction, so One Day really made me up my reading game. I can’t even remember how I came to read it, its most likely that I borrowed it from my mum, an avid reader like myself. All I know is that after reading it, I immediately bought all of the other books available by David Nicholls. I love the way he writes, and I adore his characters, even when I want to hate them. Dexter Mayhew, the male protagonist in One Day, spent the majority of the story driving me mad, but I desperately wanted to read and reread every word about him.

The story is incredibly funny, and had me laughing out loud, but it was also very bittersweet and had me crying on its pages at many points. Though this book is fantastic because of the writing style and complex characters, the reason it is my favourite is because it helps me mark an important time in my life, and because it made my love for books increase tenfold. 

Dan Kiernan – Bookseller

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid Douglas Hofstadter (1979)

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I was in between degrees, universities, and (somewhat fittingly) selves when I first read this book. It has profoundly shaped the way I think and, ultimately, the way I am, in ways with which I am still coming to terms.
Having decided to give up on a film production course for a philosophy degree instead, I started reading up on the subject to get a feel for what areas I wished to specialise in. I had worked my way through the usual suspects found on philosophy reading lists like Plato and Rawls, and wanted to try something different. I had heard that GEB was a difficult book on a difficult subject (namely, the nature of consciousness) and in the youthful arrogance of an undergraduate I wanted to prove my intellect, so I dived right in to all seven hundred and seventy seven pages with relish.
It was unlike, and is still unlike, any book, I have ever read. It essentially argues that consciousness is an emergent phenomena that develops out of a system of meaningless parts through recursive feedback to create meaning – to wit, a self. ‘Difficult’ doesn’t quite do it justice, and I confess that I don’t understand everything in the book, but the journey of reading it is worth the confusion and headaches. Hofstadter fluctuates between prose chapters making use of mathematics, music, biology, computer science, zen Buddhism and other subjects to outline his theory and chapters written as Lewis Carroll-style dialogues that illustrate the ideas through narrative, wordplay and structural puns.
Filled with fascinating ideas, humour and incredible feats of both scholarship and wordplay (one of the dialogues, involving a genie discussing various liquids and types of musical notes, is titled ‘Djin and Tonic’), it is more than worth your time, as ultimately it is all about ‘you’, and what that actually means.

Janey Thornton – Retail Manager

A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing – Eimear McBride (2013)


I was working at Bath Waterstones when A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing was published and I remember it catching my eye as I restocked the fiction shelves. This was during a time when I read constantly, always encouraged by my good friend and fellow bookseller/lover Eddie. We would have endless conversations about new writers and old….and working at Waterstones proved the perfect outlet for my reading addiction!

I bought the book and had it for a couple of months before I got round to reading it. But then I couldn’t stop. I read the whole book in one sitting on Boxing Day 2013 and, though it sounds dramatic, it changed the way I think about literature! McBride’s writing style is very unique. The best way to describe it is a splurge of words which represent each character’s thoughts in real time, before they’ve had chance to edit them. The result is pretty stunning. The book was adapted for the stage and first performed as a one-woman show in 2015, which I was lucky enough to see at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol.

Of all the books I’ve read so far (a fairly reasonable amount), I can honestly say this one changed my life, and as a result I’m strongly attached to it!


You can learn more about our team, the company and the way we work here.

10 Books Which Changed The World

-By Janey Thornton

Books are unique. They mark one of the only times you can sit down and hear from one human being’s perspective without the possibility of interruption. For this reason, they work very well for the introduction of new and possibly controversial ideas. In the light of the release of Michael Wolff’s new book ‘Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House‘, we’ve taken a look at some of the books throughout history that have ruffled the most feathers or impacted society in big and bold ways.

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1.The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

By introducing the ideas of natural selection and competition for survival into the world, The Origin of Species altered ideas about life on earth in profound and extraordinary ways which have influenced how our society is shaped today.


2. The Communist Manifesto by Friedrich Engels & Karl Marx

When it famously announced that a spectre was haunting Europe, The Communist Manifesto made a lasting impression on those who read it. Published in 1948 by the Communist League, it is arguably one of world’s most influential political documents.


3. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Since its release in 1960, To Kill A Mockingbird has become a classic of modern American literature. Bringing to light issues of racial injustice that cut to the heart of American society at the time, the book was an instant success, winning the Pulitzer Prize. It is frequently cited as a factor in the success of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.


4. The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank

Arguably the most famous piece of writing to emerge out of either of the World Wars, Ann Frank’s diary struck a chord with readers and epitomized the tragedy of the Holocaust within its pages. It was published in 1947 as The Annex: Diary Notes 14 June 1942 – 1 August 1944 and since then it has been translated into more than 60 languages.


5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Though it was only published 32 years ago, The Handmaid’s Tale brought to the foreground the idea that religious, totalitarian oppression is possible in all countries – including the United States, a country which prides itself on the concept that all of its citizens are free. Atwood’s novel sparked serious academic debates on the subject of feminism and the role of women in even the most seemingly liberal and ‘free’ of societies.


6. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

Though not instantly popular in its time, selling only 600 copies in its first 8 years, Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams has since become a classic in the fields of psychology and philosophy. Introducing his theory of the unconscious in relation to dreaming, it is considered by many as Freud’s most important book.


7. Twelve Years A Slave by Solomon Northup

Published in 1853, Twelve Years A Slave is a memoir describing a man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the American Deep South. It was released eight years before the Civil War and became a bestseller, selling over 30,000 copies. The book serves as an example of the importance of  first person accounts when it comes to the recording of history.


8. Another Country by James Baldwin

Set in Greenwich Village, New York in the 1950s, Another Country introduced a number of themes to its readers which were controversial at the time. These included homosexuality, interracial couples and extramarital affairs. In many countries and American states, it was banned upon its release. It has since become known as one of the greatest American novels written in the last 100 years.


9. A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

One of the earliest works of feminist philosophy in existence, A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman was a response to many arguments in the 18th century that women did not have the right to an education.  It was written in direct response to a 1791 report to the French National Assembly by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, which stated that women should only have a domestic education. It incited fierce debate and served as the inspiration for many feminist texts and arguments in the years to follow.


10. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This moving memoir was described by Angelou’s friend James Baldwin as ‘a Biblical study of life in the midst of death.’ Her memoir was the first by a woman of colour to delve so deeply into the personal life as opposed to the public, and it was hailed by many as an instant classic.


Introducing Our Service ‘Books By The Yard’

Here at Bookbarn we are pleased to announce the launch of our brand new and specialist service – Books By The Yard.


Owing to increasing demand, we’ve launched this service for anyone looking to buy quality books from us in bulk. We provide a picking and selection service designed to fit to your needs. You can fill your bookshelves in next to no time, find wonderful props for a set, or bulk up your collection from the comfort of your own home. All you need to do is get in touch or visit our website for more information.

Our seasoned booksellers have been specially trained to help you find the perfect books for your project. Previous clients include the BBC, Sony Pictures, Watershed Cinemas and the SS Great Britain, to name just a few. We’ve provided books for a wide variety of projects – in the picture below, you can see books from us lining the stage of London’s Old Vic Theatre – right behind no other than Ralph Fiennes!


We can organise everything for you from start to finish. Or, alternatively, you can simply select the product you wish to buy from our website, and let us do the rest. We offer a number of different genres/types of books available to purchase by the yard with just a couple of clicks. It all depends what you’re after. You can view the full range of book selections we have on offer here.

At Bookbarn, we’re passionate about finding new and interesting homes for our books. That’s why we’re so excited to let you all know about our new service. So if you’re interested and would like more information – don’t hesitate to get in touch! You can reach us by email at – or call us on 01761 451 777 to speak more about your requirements.

And if you think our service is just the sort of thing which might be of interest to your family or friends, please share this post and spread the word!

With best wishes,

The Bookbarn International/Books By The Yard Team

Poems From Anonymous

-By Janey Thornton

Books at Bookbarn catch my eye all the time – that’s the nature of working in a gigantic bookshop. But the book I’ve chosen to write about today was slightly different. It had no obvious author – just the vague title ‘Literary Notes and Extracts 1930-34‘ written on the inside page, and no other information. It wasn’t giving up anything. It was just a once plain notebook, full to the brim with elegant scribbles in pencil and pen, and it seemed to be begging to be read. I put it on my desk for safekeeping and thought no more of it. That was a year ago – and last week, at long last, I picked it up.


The book is full of little snippets of someone’s thoughts and life. Newspaper cuttings, transcribed poems, and the writer’s own poems too, along the way, sitting alongside the likes of Rupert Brooke and William Morris.  It’s an absolute gem, and not something you find all too often on our shelves.

One poem in particular really stood out.  I researched it a little and found that it was originally written by a First World War Chaplain who was nicknamed ‘Woodbine Willy’ for his habit of handing out Woodbine cigarettes to soldiers in the trenches. It struck me as the kind of hidden treasure I would never have found had this anonymous journal-keeper brought it to my attention. Here is the poem:


Wild Rose Way

My dear, I love you as I love

Wild roses when they first come out

In June, with that miraculous

Soft blush of pink, as though some elf

Had painted them for fun, while God

Looked on and laughed. You know the way

They nod and ask you not to pluck

Them, please, because they fade so soon.

I never want to touch, but just

To stand, and stare, and stare, and thank

The God who made them, and gave me

eyes to see. That’s how I love you,

Dear wild rose way. It is pure joy

To look on you, June mornings joy,

But oh! how I hate death, dull death,

When I see roses or see you.

For you ought not to die, or change,

Or curl, or bloom, or fade, wild rose.

You should be always you, the same

Eternal summer, with the dew

For ever fresh upon your hair.

And I should never die, or age,

I hate this frowning  old that blinds

Our eyes, and steals sweet laughter from

Our hearts.  It should be always June.

And we should just stand still and stare,

Until we see pure Beauty’s face,

And kiss the garment hem of God.



Poetry isn’t so fashionable nowadays; it’s been replaced by the more popular forms of the short story or novel. But I’ve always had a passion for it, and this journal sums up for me its spirit. It can exist anywhere, disjointed from its actual creator, passed along like a Chinese whisper. Wild Rose Way, by an obscure and now almost forgotten poet, was written during the First World War and transcribed by this anonymous writer between 1930-34, just before the outbreak of another war. And now it’s been found by me, and transcribed, and passed on to you for reading. You can complete the process of sinking into and emerging from a poem within about a minute; it’s a quick submersion, like falling in a puddle, and one I’ll never get bored of. I hope you also enjoyed it!


A Christmas Book List

Merry almost Christmas from everyone at Bookbarn! Our retail team leader, Emma, shares her Christmas book list…

Throughout the month of December, there are many things that get you feeling festive. Putting up the tree, going ice skating, wrapping presents – I’m a huge fan of all of these. Something else I attempt every year is to work through my Christmas Book List.

It’s made up of all of the books that get me excited for Christmas, that make me feel all warm and cosy, or even leave me so chilly that I have to dive under a very large blanket.

(It’s important to mention that not once have I managed to read every one of these during the Christmas period, but maybe this will be the year!)

Here they are.

The Harry Potter Series J K Rowling


Truthfully, is there any time when the Harry Potter books aren’t the perfect read? Heartwarming, exciting – and the thought of Hogwarts in the snow, floating candles and a massive Christmas feast never fails to get me feeling super festive.

Harry had never in all his life had such a Christmas dinner. A hundred fat, roast turkeys; mountains of roast and boiled potatoes; platters of chipolatas; tureens of buttered peas, silver boats of thick, rich gravy and cranberry sauce — and stacks of wizard crackers every few feet along the table… Harry pulled a wizard cracker with Fred and it didn’t just bang, it went off with a blast like a cannon and engulfed them all in a cloud of blue smoke, while from the inside exploded a rear admiral’s hat and several live, white mice.

A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens


The ultimate Christmas story! What better to remind you what Christmas is all about than the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s unique Christmas Eve.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

The Woman in Black Susan Hill


Now this one may seem a little like the odd one out – but I love being thoroughly creeped out and needing to hide under a blanket. It’s also a great contrast, to read passages about isolated houses and neverending marshlands whilst sitting in a comfy chair next to the Christmas tree with a hot chocolate.

“But at my feet, the dog Spider began to whine, a thin, pitiful, frightened moan, and to back away from the door a little and press against my legs.”

Matilda Roald Dahl


The wonderful Matilda, so genuinely heartwarming and sweet, makes my list each year because I feel that it embodies all of the best things about Christmas. Generosity, kindness and fun all wrapped up in one little children’s book. Keeps me warm every year. Also, without this story, I’d still be struggling to spell Difficulty.

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas Dr Seuss


Last but definitely not least is the wonderful How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr Seuss. My love for Dr Seuss knows no bounds, and this story is so much fun that I sit down to read it regularly, not just at Christmas. The grumpy Grinch is so lovable, and who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas down in Whoville?

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,

stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?

It came without ribbons. It came without tags.

It came without packages, boxes or bags.

And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”


The Social Lives Of Books

Retail Manager Janey Thornton explores the life of the book as a socially weighted and meaningful object

In a world increasingly obsessed with categorisation and order, Bookbarn can be an interesting place to work. The scale and volume of the books we receive on a daily basis can mean the discovery of real gems in the places we least expect them.

The most recent example is a signed copy of Winston Churchill’s ‘The World in Crisis’, which was found by a member of our staff in a banana crate at the back of our warehouse just a month ago. The book went for auction yesterday and sold for £2,000. This got me thinking about the role of books in our lives and their meaning as cultural objects.

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Before coming to Bookbarn, I worked as a bookseller at Waterstones for two years. Needless to say, these kinds of discoveries were far less common. The world of secondhand books is as rich as it is because such books have acquired their own histories already. Each has been printed, sold, read (or not read!), gifted, forgotten about or cherished, and then, finally – passed on, lost or sold again. These books contain ticket stubs, paychecks, photos and letters. They have what the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai has called their own social lives – and there are social and political mechanisms in place which regulate our taste, trade and desire in certain books as the years go on. Books published years ago tell us a lot about the society of that time. They are relics of the past which not only contain stories but tell their own merely through existing. Think of the first editions of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, for example – printed privately in Florence in 1928 and selling today for anywhere between £16,000 – £20,000. The full text could not be published openly in the United Kingdom until 1960. These books reflect the society in which they were published in a way many other objects simply aren’t capable of doing.

Image result for lady chatterley's lover first edition

This is often why secondhand and antiquarian books are often treated with a kind of reverence newly published books are not. These books are retired but they have a plethora of stories to tell their younger counterparts do not. They’ve been used to stoke the fire of new romances, to mend fragmented friendships, to help bridge the gap between mothers and daughters and fathers and sons who perhaps have wildly different perspectives. Virginia Woolf described secondhand books as ‘wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.’

I think fondly of Bookbarn as the kind of ‘vast flock’ of books Woolf describes. We do not have the order of the bookshop chain, the suaveness or style of Waterstones or Foyles. But what we can offer is a tapestry of hidden pleasures and delights – swathes of wise and wild books to be found and enjoyed amongst the stacks and read in front of our log fire. You never know what you might find here!