I’m the manager of the Oxfam Bookshop in Royal Exchange Square and we’ve been open for just over six months now. Getting the shop fully stocked and building my fantastic team of volunteers in time for opening was fairly hectic, but we’ve settled into a good routine now. Every day, we sort through the small mountain of books generously donated to us, finding little gems, such as beautifully illustrated books on embroidery or vintage cookery books, nestled amongst the quality paperback fiction in almost new condition which is our staple fare. We could sell copies of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series and anything Harry Potter related all day long (and I could build you a modest but highly combustible fort out of Dan Browns), but every now and then something just a little bit different arrives on the sorting table.
At the moment, we have a series of nine booklets entitled Anatomy of a Computer published by IBM which we can date to the late 1960s or very early 1970s going by the address of the head office printed on the back of the booklets as well as the colour palette and patterns used in the designs. Far from being dull computing manuals, these slim, comb-bound booklets are quality publications with an emphasis on design, from the brightly coloured abstract graphics to the black and white photographs of people working with computers. They are appealing even to someone with absolutely no interest in the history of computing but, especially because they have no ISBN, these booklets are proving difficult to research and I might need to foray into the world of vintage computer forums to learn more.
Other books just give you a good chuckle. One of my favourites at the moment is Quick Workouts: Fitness Anytime, Anywhere published in 1988 which has detailed descriptions complete with unintentionally hysterical pictures of exercise routines to be completed during the course of your ordinary day, say, whilst you are sitting at your office desk or taking the bus. My preferred exercise routine would have to be the one to do whilst waiting on a lift, which is admirably modelled by a man in a striped shirt topped with a burgundy tank top, black trousers, brown shoes and a serious side shed. I’m not sure how big a market there is for this book, but I love it.
Not long after we opened, someone donated a collection of books and ephemera in Russian. Mostly published in the 1960s, I was intrigued by the bold designs and striking colours used in the publications, but, being unable to read (or type) in Cyrillic, I was at a complete loss as to what they were actually about and unable to research them online. Luckily, Alena, a Belarusian volunteer, worked her way through the donation to uncover books of revolutionary songs and poetry as well as guides to hiking and camping produced during the Communist era. These are documents of real historical and cultural significance, and I wish I could read them!
I love working in my bookshop, you just never know what you are going to find.