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Oxford Bookshops

Books + Ideas, Oxford — March 2010

Oxford has some great bookshops, not surprisingly for a university town. Here is my survey of them.

Albion Beatnik

This little Jericho bookstore specialises in 20th century fiction - divided into "European literature", "1900-1920", etc. - travel, poetry and music. At the back are secondhand history and music books. The fiction is nicely curated: how many other bookshops have a shelf of Eastern European literature, organised as such, and shelves just for the 1920s and 30s?

They also serve coffee and tea and cakes at a few tables at the front of the shop. Perhaps most importantly, they are open till 11pm!

An interview with the owner.

The Last Bookshop

25 Walton St

The shop on New Inn Hall St has shut — they are looking for a new inner city location — but the shop on Walton St is still open.

The notable feature of The Last Bookshop is that every book is £3 or two for £5 (up from £2 in summer 2014). Unlike most such discount bookshops, however, the stock - remainders and returns - is disproportionately taken from literary and specialist publishers, resulting in a high concentration of literature, academic works, and so forth. That makes this by far the best discount/remainder shop I've ever found. The Works (on Cornmarket) is no comparison at all, nor are even the better Sydney discount shops such as Basement Books.

Notable finds here include novels by Wolfgang Koeppen, W.F. Hermans, and Gert Ledig. Mostly they have stacks of the same title, but they have occasional "one off" titles - a nice hardcover copy of Elias Khoury's Yalo, for example, and a hardcover copy of Menezes and Mendeiro's An Introduction to Auction Theory.

The Walton St shop also has secondhand books (downstairs) and a cafe.

Blackwells

This is Oxford's best known bookshop. Spread over four levels - and three shops, with separate Art/Poster and Music shops on the other side of Broad St - Blackwells has a great academic and specialist range. It's also spaciously laid out, with armchairs for reading scattered throughout, and has a Cafe Nero attached to it. (For Sydney-siders, Blackwells has as many books (100000+) as Abbeys (55000) and Gleebooks (?) combined, but in at least twice the space.)

There are plenty of 3-for-2 offers, even 2-for-1 classics, but also a few shelves of sale books: my finds here include Ancient Sukhothai for £1 and Israel's History and the History of Israel for £10. Upstairs is a small antiquarian and secondhand section.

Waterstones

The Oxford Waterstones has a good range of books, spread over several floors, and a nice layout, with show tables highlighting themes e.g. literature in translation, first novels. There's a Costa's Coffee attached. Waterstones is much better than any of the Australian chain bookstores (such as Dymocks or Angus and Robertsons).

Oxfam Bookshops

Addresses: 56 St Giles and 15 Turl St

The specialist Oxfam bookshops on St Giles and Turl St are both excellent. The people running them know how much books are worth, though, so real bargains are hard to come by. (In some cases a new copy from the Last Bookshop would be cheaper!)

Oxbow Books

A specialist bookseller and publisher, concentrating on archaeology, history, the classics and related subjects. They have extensive stock, a wide range of remaindered titles at reductions of between 50 and 90% and some secondhand stock. [copied from comment below]

Charity Shops

Most of the charity shops - and Oxford has many - have a bookshelf or two of books.

On Cowley Rd, the Oxfam shop gets some nice books in. I picked up one of the Clay Sanskrit Library volumes, the Gitagovinda, for £2 here. And the Age UK shop is decently curated. The Barnardos and Helen & Douglas House shops seem to collect less interesting books.

The Oxford University Press Bookshop

The OUP bookshop is always something of a disappointment. There are some excellent books, albeit rather expensive, but it's all a bit staid. Given the prices, it's hard to justify not just going to Amazon for OUP books.

St Philip's Books

Address: 82 St Aldates

St Philips's specialises in theology and church history, but also has some general history. It's a bit cramped and not that much fun to browse in, so I don't visit that often. The web site is easy to use, however.

Antiques on High

Address: 82 St Aldates

The front is dedicated to antiques, but the back rooms have quite a decent stock of books, mostly antiquarian/collectible.

St Andrews

A Christian bookshop.

The Book House

A small shop, but one with a nice selection, reflecting its academic North Oxford clientele.

Barefoot Books

Barefoot Books is a publisher and event venue as much as a bookshop - they really only stock their own books.

Others

What have I missed? And no, WH Smith doesn't count as a bookshop!

Closed

Along with the rest of the UK stores, the Borders in Oxford has closed, to be replaced by yet another Tesco. A number of other small secondhand bookshops that I remember from my previous visit in 2007 also appear to have gone.

12 Comments »

  1. I read your review of "conscious explained". I just wanted to say thank you for your input and it was a very will written synopsis of the book. I appreciate your efforts.

    Comment by Wallace Rose — March 2010
  2. Hi Danny, so you've settled in Oxford. The daughter of the friend of my mother lived in Oxford during the nineties, and I've visited her and her husband 4 or 5 times during the nineties. Oxford is a nice city, so I can imagine you're pleased to live there. In those years there was also a very nice secondhand bookstore in London, called the two jayes. Maybe it's still there. Enjoy your stay, Erik

    Comment by Erik Scheffers — April 2010
  3. [...] all the books he'd bought on Charing Cross Rd the day before, Cosma found room for five more from the Last Bookshop. He's a bibliophile after my own [...]

  4. I hope you've discovered in London, Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street--highly recommended. (Bond St tube station or bus from Oxford stopping in Oxford Street near Selfridges).

    Comment by Margaret Mackenzie-Hooson — February 2011
  5. "WH Smith doesn't count as a bookshop!" Neither does Waterstones in my opinion, since it only has drivel like celebrity chef books and Katie Price.

    Comment by e — June 2012
  6. My understanding is that every Waterstones is different. Certainly the Oxford one is an excellent bookshop, with a broad range of stock. (It's not Blackwells, but that would be asking too much.)

    Comment by danny — June 2012
  7. The Last Bookshop on New Inn High Street
    Is now new books. The used bookshop will now be found in a shop nearby.
    Contact the owner for details.

    Comment by Jack Cormode — July 2014
  8. The Last Bookshop has always sold new books, just ones that are heavily discounted or remaindered. They've put their price up to £3, though, or 2 for £5.

    Comment by danny — July 2014
  9. Hi Danny,

    Thanks for your favourable indeed glowing review of our Last Bookshops. I have nothing to add except I wish all readers well and hope to see you in the shops in the near future.

    Happy browsing!

    Patrick

    Comment by Patrick Curran — March 2015
  10. Hi Danny. This is very helpful list but I'm surprised that it doesn't include Oxbow Books, 10 Hythe Bridge Street. This is a specialist bookseller and publisher, concentrating on archaeology, history, the classics and related subjects. They have extensive stock, a wide range of remaindered titles at reductions of between 50 and 90% and some secondhand stock.

    Kind regards,

    Nick

    Comment by Nick — November 2015
  11. Thanks Nick, I've added Oxbow Books (and taken the liberty of copying your comment text to my entry for it).

    Comment by danny — November 2015
  12. Thanks for this very helpful post! Here are my impressions, in case anyone finds them useful, of a few Oxford bookshops from an August 2016 visit.

    The Last Bookshop: The Walton Street location is quite good: plenty of used and rare books in a variety of subjects at mostly reasonable prices. The New Inn Hall Street location was a disappointment: at least in my area of interest (literature), there were plenty of generic paperbacks but virtually no hardcovers and no academic books.

    Blackwells, of course, is excellent. Nothing to add except that the so-called “secondhand” section is distinct from the antiquarian section. In Classics, the secondhand section is small but worthwhile.

    Oxfam: I found the St. Giles location not to be terribly interesting with a fairly limited selection. Worth a stop, though, if you’re in the area. The Turl Street location was more rewarding.

    Oxbow: Really a hidden gem; if not for this post, I probably would never have found it. Unlike The Last Bookshop, Oxbow does have many, many academic works. It is slightly inconvenient that no prices are marked, but the prices can apparently be extremely low (as Nick says): I purchased a hardcover academic book from Cambridge for ten pounds that sells new on Amazon.com for $105.

    St. Philip’s: I would add that there is a substantial Catholic emphasis in the stock. Very good selection in patristics and biblical studies, very little in Classics proper (unless I missed it).

    Comment by Stephen — October 2016

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