Reviews

‘Footfall is as engaging as it gets. Cassandra James is . . . a terrific character, beautifully honed from seemingly staid academic to feisty heroine . . . a truly breathtaking read.’

- TANGLED WEB

My best ever buy in an Oxfam shop

Posted on Jul 7, 2018 in Michael Gilbert, Oxfam bookshops | 8 Comments

It’s forty years since I bought the first of many books in an Oxfam shop. I know that because I have the book open beside me and the date is written inside: ‘July 1978’ along with the place: ‘Birmingham.’ It was a new book, The Oxfam Vegetable Cookbook by Rose Elliot, and it cost 75 pence. Did Oxfam sell second-hand books then? I was a young postgraduate, living alone for the first time in a bed-sit in Moseley, a leafy suburb close to the University, and learning to cook for myself. I certainly got my money’s worth from that book. It’s been worked hard and is corrugated from cooking stains and water marks. There is a recipe for carrot and lentil soup that I still use.

Over the years how many books have I bought from Oxfam bookshops? Hundreds, certainly, more likely thousands, and I’ve donated just as many. I love the idea of sending books back out into world for others to enjoy with the knowledge that they are doing good at the same time. The one in Cambridge, where I taught at Homerton College in the 1990s, was a particular favourite. Academics are great readers of crime fiction and I used to snap up US editions left by visiting scholars.

There is nothing like the frisson of entering a Oxfam shop, not knowing if you’ll find something out of print by a favourite writer or happen upon a wonderful writer who is new to you. My best buy ever was The Man Who Hated Banks and Other Mysteries by Michael Gilbert, discovered in the Sheffield Broomhill branch. It was difficult to get hold of at the time and though it set me back £12, it was worth every penny. Looking on-line I see that there are now copies available from the US for around the same price at the click of a mouse, but where is the fun in that?

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Matlock Oxfam shop and this was written to be displayed there. Perhaps I should add that I do buy new copies of books by my favourite writers, but this is a great way of sampling writers first.

8 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    July 7, 2018

    I love the idea of letting books do good as well, Christine. And the Oxfam shops are a great example of just that. There is something about discovering a new-to-you author or a hidden treasure in a shop like that, isn’t there? And your post brings up all of the personal memories that are linked to books, too. I love it!

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      July 7, 2018

      Lovely to hear from you, Margot! Yes, ones books are almost like a biography and I think the memories attached to them are part of what can make it difficult to part with them. For all my donations of books to charity shops, I still have an awful lot left!

      Reply
  2. Alex
    July 9, 2018

    Oh how I miss the charity shop and their bargain buys! This sounds like the best investment anyone could ever make.

    Reply
  3. Susan D
    July 10, 2018

    My only visit to an Oxfam shop was in Oxford in 1973, where I picked up a fairly new copy of Mary Stewart’s novella, Wind Off the Small Isles. I’ve always felt so lucky (smug, too) to have it, since it was not at all well known, and was out of print for the next 40+ years. (but lately reissued, at last.)

    No, no Oxfam shops in Canada. A numer of charity thrift shops with books, but I don’t know of any book-specific charity shops near me, in Toronto.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      July 10, 2018

      Yes, that was real treasure and I love the way that books bring back memories of a time and place. That aren’t that many charity shops here that sell just books. Many sell bric-a-brac and other things, even furniture, but can still have a pretty good range of books.

      Reply
  4. moira @ clothes in books
    July 16, 2018

    Oh how I agree with every word of this! Oxfam bookshops have been an important part of my life too, and every aspect works so well together: books to find, treasures to discover, money to a good cause, and a place to donate books, too. And knowing the money will be used so well. I cannot go into an Oxfam bookshop without that frisson of not knowing what might be on the next shelf…

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      July 18, 2018

      Yes indeed. Not the only charity shops, but still the best. Though I have recently discovered treasure in the second-hand bookshops that some National Trust houses now have.

      Reply

Leave a Reply