Harvest Supper, Scrabble Tournament & Book Haul: A Great Trip to Bookbarn

I manage about an annual trip to Bookbarn International, one of my favorite secondhand bookshops in the UK. Apart from the stock in their newly opened Darwin Rare Books room and the 50-pence children’s books, everything in the shop is £1. I never fail to come out with a great stack of finds. Our trip on Thursday was extra special because we were going for the café’s Harvest Supper and Scrabble tournament, held as part of The Great Bath Feast.

We played one 45-minute game against another team of two, broke for an excellent vegetarian supper of squash, spinach and goat’s cheese pie with mashed potatoes and baby roast vegetables, then played a second match before dessert (vegan plum crumble with custard or gluten-free fig brownie with ice cream). Over the years my husband and I have become quite the Scrabble fiends, and together on one team I’m afraid we were unbeatable. Our bingo starting off Game #2 helped, but we worried we were at an overall advantage because the other boards each had three teams playing.

It was a special pleasure to meet William Pryor, the chairman of Bookbarn. Last year he spotted my blog posts about Bookbarn and offered me a copy of his memoir, The Survival of the Coolest. It’s a wonderful book about growing up a descendant of Charles Darwin but going off the rails and ending up addicted to heroin in his 20s:

This family of mine! On the one hand you have the royalty of science and Bloomsbury, on the other the fading world of the English landed gentry. … We had no religion but Darwin.

The months ran into each other as a blur of the chase for relief, the wheeling and dealing … One of the most striking aspects of hell is that it goes round and round; the same torments over and over again.

Mr. Pryor let me have a sneak peek at the Darwin room after the shop closed and kindly gave me a copy of his grandmother Gwen Raverat’s memoir, Period Piece. Over pudding we chatted about literary festivals, the Bookshop Band, his failed idea to return a portion of secondhand books’ resale value to the authors, and the latest Nobel Prize winner.

As to that book haul: I feel like I have fiction coming out of my ears, so with our hour of book browsing time I mainly focused on biographies and memoirs. Here are my finds:


Biographies and essays on writing biography:

Bereavement memoirs:

(Two of my purchases will go especially well as pairs with books I already own.)

Medical memoirs:

General memoirs (I was especially pleased to find the sequel to Cobwebs and Cream Teas, which I bought at Bookbarn last time and read early this year):

Plus two poetry books (one of them signed!):

And two novels I happened to grab on the way to the till:

My unexpected freebies. The Raverat is a lovely small-format hardback with gilt-edge pages and a maroon ribbon bookmark; on the right is our prize for winning the Scrabble tournament:


I’ve already had a peek inside a few of the books I bought and found some excellent passages. Leonard Woolf’s memoir opens with an extraordinary passage of almost biblical language about existence and non-existence; one of Marge Piercy’s poems struck me right away for its description of a Jewish holiday and the line “there is no justice we don’t make daily / like bread and love.”

My husband came away with three natural history books, and we also found a few children’s books to give to nieces and nephews.

Thanks to this book haul plus a trip to Book-Cycle in early September and some charity shopping last week, I’ve had to start a double stack on my biography/memoir shelves. There’s already a double stack on one of my unread fiction shelves. Next week is my birthday, so the book acquisitions are only likely to continue…

13 responses

  1. Oh my goodness, Rebecca, what a wonderful haul! And well done on winning the Scrabble tournament. I had no idea the Bookbarn was in Somerset. That’s really not very far from me, which may be a very bad thing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure you’d enjoy an outing. It’s in a business park in the middle of nowhere, but Bath is the nearest town.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The Picardie books and the Reverat are superb. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so unique to get two sisters’ perspectives on the one’s illness. I think I’ll read Ruth’s book in November as one of my nonfiction novellas, and then Justine’s some time afterwards.


  3. Wow brilliant haul, I don’t know that place. I have been to Astley book barn but I assume that’s a different place. That pie looks amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard of Astley from Liz and would like to go there too, maybe combined with some George Eliot tourism.

      The food at the cafe is excellent. We’ve also done cafe and cake there before.


  4. I really want to go there, Ali, we should have a trip! And what a lovely selection you acquired. I love the Raverat book and read it with joy a little while ago. I am trying to get the bookshelves down before Christmas and birthday season strikes, though I managed to come home from Cornwall with only two new books, rather shockingly!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a fun event! That meal looks delicious! I’m reading this late afternoon here, and my stomach is rumbling. 🙂
    I’m curious to hear more about those two Picardie memoirs…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What fun indeed! And congrats! Have you read WordFreak, or seen the documentary, about competitive Scrabble? I found them both so fascinating. Although I don’t enjoy the game myself. The Raverat is lovely, and I love the look of the Leonard Woolf volume too. No wonder you only go about once a year: the stacks would be completely unmanageable if you visited more often!


    1. Word Freak sounds like a book for me! We’re not at that sort of competitive level by any means, but we enjoy a challenging match.

      Bookbarn is 1.5 hours away from us; 2 hours with traffic. So that’s one reason not to go too often. We try to combine visits with other things, like seeing friends in Bristol or sightseeing in Bath. Also, if we went more frequently the stock wouldn’t have turned over enough, though it’s possible I’d be looking for different things each time.


  7. […] At that special Harvest Supper and Scrabble** tournament in October 2017 (which I wrote about here), I got to meet William Pryor, the chairman of Bookbarn, and he gave me a copy of his grandmother […]


  8. […] about Lara Feigel’s forthcoming novel, I unearthed the Mary McCarthy paperback I’d plucked from Bookbarn’s shelves in 2017. I decided to read Feigel’s first, lest it feel less than fresh; perhaps inevitably, McCarthy’s […]


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