There Will Be No New Books….

I am the first to admit that volunteering in an Oxfam Book Shop is not necessarily the best of activities for someone who has resolved that there will be No New Books. But the other volunteers are so nice, and our customers are unbelievably lovely… And, of course, there are the books. I’m like a child let loose in a sweet store. The shop, as you would expect, is packed with shelves, all full of books, and if there were no customers to be served I could spend all day browsing. But it’s the back room that I love the most. This is where we sort and price the donations, and there are books everywhere, crammed onto storage shelves, as well as the table, the desk, the packing area and, occasionally, the chairs. And there are days when you can hardly see the floor for the pile of book-filled bags and boxes that dominates the room.

It’s surprisingly satisfying to establish some kind of order amidst the chaos, and there’s a sense of achievement in unpacking a rare or unusual book. But best of all, because I’m really rather selfish, is the thrill I get from finding a book that’s been on my Wish List for what seems like ever and ever. I really can’t pass up the chance to buy a Must Have volume, despite that resolution about not buying new books, which was made partly on the grounds of economy, and partly on the grounds that we have no room. Anyway, I was so excited when I spotted these yesterday that I just had to have them – and, as I always say, second-hand books are not new, so they don’t count!

First up is Elizabeth Taylor’s A Game of Hide and Seek, in this wonderful old VMC edition, with a cover featuring Karoly Patko’s Still Life with Lilies and Blue Hat. I love Taylor’s understated writing and, according to the blurb on the back this is her ‘subtlest and finest work’, so I can’t wait to start reading.

Then there’s The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy(another Virago Modern Classic). Apparently, it’s a rite of passage book and its heroine, Sally Jay Gorce, is a woman with a mission. To quote from the blurb: “It’s the 1950s, she’s young, she’s in Paris, she’s dyed her hair pink, she’s wearing an evening dress at eleven o’clock in the morning, and she’s seldom had more fun.” Has anyone read this, and is it as good as it sounds?

And I found Rumer Godden’s Black Narcissus, which I’ve been hunting for for ages. Godden is one of my more recent discoveries, and I’ve really enjoyed the books I’ve read so far. This was famously made into a film starring Deborah Kerr, so I suppose most people know it is about a group of nuns who establish a convent high in the Himalayas, but tragedy ensues when hidden passions surface. Virago again I’m afraid – though I’m not sure why I feel I should apologise. I like Virago.

Finally I bought Before Lunch, an Angela Thirkell novel that I’ve not come across before – and no, this one isn’t Virago, it’s a 1954 Penguin (number 852) and it originally cost two shillings (old money). Just think how many books I could get if they were still two bob each.

Actually, these aren’t the only books I bought this week, because when I was in the shop on Saturday I remembered I still had to pay for one about Chaucer, which I left on the shelf above the desk some weeks back. I succumbed to John Gardner’s The Life and Times of Chaucer because a) it has such a great cover; b) I rather like Chaucer, and c) I don’t know anything about him.

Having sorted that out, I then plucked Peter Ackroyd’s Chaucer from a box, which seemed serendipitous, and I thought it would be interesting to read alongside John Gardner, and it’s such a slender volume it won’t take up much space, so I bought that too!

So much for my efforts to limit the number of books coming into our house! In six days I’ve bought six books, and even with my limited mathematical ability I can see that equates to a book a day, which is a little worrying. If I carry on like this think how many books I’ll have acquired by the end of the year! Where would I put them all? And when would I ever get round to reading them?
Does anyone else out there get seized with this compulsion to buy books – and if so do you give in, or do you manage to resist temptation?

16 thoughts on “There Will Be No New Books….

  1. I do envy you picking up two of my favourite books : 'A game of hide and seek' and 'High Rising' even though I actually own them both and have an identical copy of the Thirkell; it's the wonderful moment when you spot the book coupled with the thrill of the chase. On Wednesday I mentioned to one daughter that I'd mislaid an Elizabeth David book that's as good to read as to cook from and yesterday staying with another daughter in Manchester I found a copy so, yes, hooray for Oxfam bookshops!


  2. I love books, but don't really buy as many as you in one day. (: I love to spend time at our local library and most of the time end up coming home with a bag full. It looks like you're working in the perfect place for you.


  3. Well, looking at the quality of the books I would call that wise investment expenditure. I'm trying to be careful, just buying the out of print and the books I want to 'build my library' but that's still a lot of books.


  4. The 'thrill of the chase' really does describe the moment I spot a book I want! And I love Elizabeth David – I always enjoy reading the one on French Provincial Cooking, and I've got An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, which is a selection of essays on food, cooking and eating, and is excellent.


  5. So jealous, the Goodwills here in the US are not nearly so good for books! Just don't spend all your wages, lol! Just reread Private Enterprise again which was in our local library,msurprisingly.


  6. What a great choice of books! I can see it would be a real struggle for me working in an Oxfam Book shop, – the temptation to buy books would be irresistible! I am constantly having to stop myself stepping inside any bookshop to resist that temptation!


  7. Lichfield is a very bookish town I think – the local hospice also has a second-hand bookshop (a few doors away from us) and when we can't help customers we send them there, and they send people up to us if they haven't got a book! And all the other charity shops have extensive book sections as well.


  8. It is very difficult Margaret. Lack of cash and space acts as some kind of restraint! At the moment we're a bit snowed under with books, and I'm trying to weed out things I know I will never read again – to take to Oxfam, of course!


  9. Gosh. Working in Oxfam Books is so dangerous…but I totally agree that second hand books don't count (!!!) We have a wonderful one locally (certain locals have seriously good taste) and I simply can't go in there anymore as I have no self control! Adore Rumer Godden…..I wasn't overawed by the Dud Avocado when I eventually read it. Classic 'coming of age' story. What you'd expect. But many love it so I'll be so intrigued to hear what you think!


  10. I'm glad I'm not the only person who thinks that when it comes to buying books, second hand ones don't count! I've finished Black Narcissus, which I thought was brilliant, but I haven't posted a blog piece on it yet. And I'm just finishing The Dud Avocado, which was a bit disappointing really. I'm not sure why, but it reminded me it reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye, which I loved when I was a teenager (but might not love now). Something to do with the language and style of the books perhaps, and disaffected youth.


  11. There is no way I could have resisted any of these books. Yes, at the moment I am not buying books, but if I worked at Oxfam I would find a way! I recently found a Modern Library copy of Black Narcissus fo $2, so I will be reading that soon.


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