Found in books (revisited)

Over on Instagram I posted a picture of some book marks that I found inside a book today. Now, there’s nothing that remarkable about that as such – I mean we find book marks in books everyday – we also find photos, pressed flowers, train tickets, postcards, etc. pretty much anything that you can us to mark your page we will find and have found in a book over the years. but what grabbed my attention about these particular book marks is there provenance. Headed ‘OXFAM BOOKMARK’ these were produced by an Oxfam Book Centre in Exeter and judging by the 5 digit phone number these must be from the early 1980s.

So this would suggest that somebody bought the book in Exeter and this has now been re-donated back to us in York. And as I have mentioned before I’m fascinated by the history of the actual book – this book (The Art of Illustration by C.H. Spurgeon published in 1897) has 3 previous owners inscriptions to the endpaper and 1 book plate stuck in for good measure. Thereby it has had at least 4 owners prior to it coming to our shop and at least 1 who purchased it in Exeter.

And then there is is the message on the book mark itself:

‘Your OLD BOOKS may become BREAD for the HUNGRY. We can sell every type of book including Novels Poetry Classics Theology Text Books Paperbacks Can you help us to help others?’

Okay we’re probably 30 years on from when the Exeter shop made these book marks, however the sentiment remains. Can you help us to help others?

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“Happiness is a Cup of Coffee and a Good Book”

Earlier this year, Oxfam Books, Petergate, launched a loyalty card scheme, applying to fiction paperbacks purchased from the Oxfam shop on Low Petergate and entitling customers to a free paperback book for every six that they buy. Following the success of this scheme, the loyalty cards will now be rolled out across three more bookshops in the North Yorkshire area and will now be available in Oxfam Books on Micklegate, York, and in the bookshops in Harrogate and Beverley.

Customers can pick up their free loyalty card from any of these shops, which they can then present for a stamp every time they purchase a fiction paperback book. Simply collect six stamps and enjoy a free book!

Coffee will also be available in these shops for an hour every weekday. Fairtrade coffee will be available for customers to help themselves to between 10am and 11am. What could be better than a nice cup of coffee to accompany your search for a new (possibly free) book?

Shop Manager, John McKay said, “In this area, we are fortunate to be part of a very active community and therefore have a loyal client base. We are hoping that these initiatives will encourage even more people to support our work, and act as a reward for those who have been supporting us for many years.”

The scheme starts on the 1st June and loyalty cards can be collected from the Oxfam Bookshops on Petergate and Micklegate in York, and from the bookshops in Harrogate and Beverley from then onwards. Anyone who already has a card from the Petergate branch will now be able to use it in all four shops. Coffee will also be available in all four shops from the 1st June.

For the full terms and conditions of the loyalty cards, please click here.

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The Nepal Earthquake and how you can help

In light of recent events regarding the devastating Nepal earthquake, it is necessary to highlight the emergency response played by Oxfam. Such disasters, despite any methods that may be undertaken, cannot be fully prevented. There will always be some level of damage whether it is structurally or physically; it will affect people’s lives.

Therefore with the devastation caused by the earthquake in Nepal, Oxfam immediately undertook an emergency response to provide relief. The earthquake has affected about 8 million people in different ways with the death toll and injuries devastatingly high and continuing to rise. Oxfam as one of the charities helping the crisis aims to help at least 350,000 people in their time of need. The aims are to provide clean water, emergency food and sanitation to help people who are homeless or too afraid to return home due to the vast structural damage. Oxfam is currently working with other agencies in Nepal to provide water and sanitation to those affected and has already began work in four camps delivering clean water and toilets.

However, Oxfam cannot meet such aims without help from generous people who watch the devastation on their television screens, never imagining it would or could happen to them. Nepal, like many countries affected by such disasters is one of the world’s poorest countries and therefore does not have the infrastructure and resources to deal with a crisis of such a magnitude. People in richer countries such as Britain often take such economic and social security for granted.

You can easily make a difference by donating too Oxfam, no matter how big or small, it will all help the people of Nepal in desperate need of aid. Donations will go towards providing clean water supplies, sanitation, medical supplies and shelter to help many people affected in different ways by the earthquake. Therefore you would be contributing to the disaster relief by helping decrease the effects of the crisis and helping the people desperately in need of assistance.

Unfortunately such disasters are not uncommon; they happen all too regularly, filling newspaper headlines and our television screens. With such disasters Oxfam deploys a quick emergency response to help provide short-term disaster relief as well as to develop communities to help people in the long-term as well. However Oxfam needs your help to meet such aims and to help reduce the level of poverty that is still experienced in many corners of the globe.

If you want to find out any more information on the Nepal crisis particularly and how to donate or how Oxfam helps such natural disasters, visit the Oxfam website:

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History of the Book

Page 116 'H is for Hawk

Page 116 ‘H is for Hawk

I was reading H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald on the train this morning and I was struck by the passage above and how it relates to working at Oxfam.

Often when we get donations of books there are mementos left by or from previous owners of the book. This can range from an owners inscription to items that are left in books such as photos, bookmarks, etc. (see our Lost and Found post). Macdonald asks her friends about objects that gave them a sense of history and her description of how her friends feel regarding objects such as ‘clay pipes’ or ‘dancing shoes’ is exactly how I feel towards many of the donations that we receive in the shop.

By looking closely at a book and often its contents it is possible to get a sense of who the person was who previously owned and read the item. Some people write their names, some leave messages for other and some write notes in the margins. All of which help to build up a picture of who the person was. And if you have more than one book this sense of the books history build into a sense of the person through their reading habits – you become au fait with their interests, you discover who they are/were through the books that they read. If they were, like me, the type of person who uses whatever is to hand to mark their place. You then have an idea of journeys, of their taste in cards, of whether they pressed flowers or not.

Books can tell us so much about the individual and it is my role at Oxfam to allow others to share the same sense of the history of the book by caring for the books and passing them on to a new owner who will in turn add their own history to the book.

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Book of the Week: Beckett Remembering Remembering Beckett

In anticipation of St Patrick’s Day on Tuesday 17th March, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate one of our favourite Irish writers, Samuel Beckett.

Widely regarded as one of the most important writers of the 20th Century, Beckett was a novelist, playwright, theatre director and poet whose work fits in to what Marin Esslin called the “Theatre of the Absurd,” and which became increasingly minimalistic in his later life. Beckett was raised in Ireland but spent the majority of his adult life living in Paris.

His most famous works are probably his first three plays, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Happy Days,  all written between 1948 and 1961.

The video above is a monologue called “Not I,” which Beckett wrote in 1972 and which is performed by actress, Billie Whitelaw. Although this was not the first performance, Beckett had written the monologue with Whitelaw in mind, as they had worked together before, on Play. The monologue is frantic and delivered at great speed, telling the story, in a round about way, of a seventy year old woman who has lived a loveless existence following her abandonment by her parents at birth and who seems to have suffered an unspecified traumatic experience. Although rape is something that springs to mind when listening to the monologue, Beckett was emphatic in denying that this was the trauma she had suffered.

The play is always staged in this way, with the stage completely dark apart from a spotlight on the mouth of the actress. Beckett originally wrote in another, silent character called the Auditor, genderless but usually played by a man. This character would wear a black robe and only be dimly visible but when Beckett tried to stage the play, he found the figure too difficult to position so removed it from the production, while leaving directions for it in the published script.

Whitelaw and Beckett had an intense professional relationship and he would write some of his more experimental pieces specifically for her, referring to her as a “perfect actress.” After his death in 1989, Whitelaw chose never to perform any of his works again.


In the first half of Beckett Remembering Remembering Beckett, James Knowlson, Beckett’s official biographer, compiles a selection of Beckett’s personal memories and anecdotes, while in the second half, he talks to others who knew Beckett personally and professionally. If you’re a fan of Beckett’s work or would just like to find out more about this fascinating character and his work, pop into the shop to ask about this book.


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From Fairtrade Fortnight to Easter


Once again it has reached that time- the end of Fairtrade Fortnight and the fast approaching Easter season. To celebrate such events, it is only right to acknowledge the wonderful Fairtrade Company that Oxfam supports.

Fairtrade Fortnight is an event that hugely raises awareness of the hard work that the producers do, as they make such luxury items a daily expectance in today’s society. You may have noticed the recipes inside Oxfam shops and on the website as well as the huge abundance of Fairtrade products on display, which help strengthen this amazing cause. By purchasing such products it makes it easier for the producers to earn a better living with the support that you have provided. If you want to find out more about what Fairtrade does and how to support it follow this link:

Now try not to be disheartened at the ending of such a momentous event as Easter is just around the corner. This is another reason to celebrate for Oxfam as if you enter the shops you will surely not miss the selection of Easter eggs scattering the shelves. It is surely the point of call for many children visiting the shop.

The Easter Eggs currently on display, like the huge array of other products available in Oxfam, come from the wonderful company Divine. Such a company has grown globally and as a result has succeeded in growing a market for Fairtrade chocolate. In fact Oxfam is the only retailer that Divine supplies its whole range to (not that we’re bragging.)

So what is your favourite Easter product to sample on this season? Is it the mini chocolate eggs or the more glamorous full sized eggs? Well I have to say that after working on the till staring at the eggs for some time, I really would not mind which I ate first! In their bright Devine packaging they look absolutely amazing, and knowing that they are supporting a cause as worthy as Fairtrade makes them taste even better.

If you want to find out more about Divine and the products that they supply to Oxfam there is an abundance of material just a mouse click away:

But in the meantime why not pop into Oxfam Books Petergate and see for yourself what the fuss is about. We have a “eggstremely” huge selection of Easter eggs on display to get over the ending of Fairtrade Fortnight. Sorry I told myself I would not use any egg-related puns….

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Book of the Week: The Book of the Dead


This week, we have had the most wonderful donation of a huge quantity of books about Ancient Egypt including an amazing copy of a translation of the Book of the Dead, including these beautiful pull out images (pictured above)

The Book of the Dead is an Ancient Egyptian funerary text that was in use from the beginning of the New Kingdom (c. 1550 BC) until around 50 BC.  The Book of the Dead contains around 200 spells which were supposed to help the dead transition smoothly into the afterlife. While some of these spells were part of wider funerary rituals, performed by priests and loved ones, the majority of them were intended for the personal use of the dead.

These spells formed part of a long tradition of Egyptian magic for the dead which can be seen in its earliest form as Pyramid Texts, which date from between 2400 BC and 2300 BC. These texts were almost exclusively for royal use and were laid out on the walls in such a way as to make it easier for the dead person to use them to transition into the next world.

Another body of spell known as the Coffin Texts emerged after the end of the Old Kingdom and seem to have served a similar purpose but were not just used by royalty. These texts have been found carved into the sides of coffins (hence the name), written on papyri inside coffins, and, occasionally, carved into the walls of a burial chamber.

Spells in the Book of the Dead were often concerned with ensuring the safety of the dead.

One important means of providing magical protection was the placing of four bricks of unbaked mud in niches in the burial chamber, each acting as a stand for a protective figure and part of spell 151 of the Book of the Dead contains specifications for the bricks and what the figures were to be made of.

Amulets are another example of this, and were commonly found in the wrappings of mummies. The scarab amulet was a very popular amulet and was associated to the Sun God and powers of rebirth. It was often made with Jasper as there were specific guidelines as to what colour amulets should be outlined in the Book of the Dead.

“Heart Scarabs” used to protect the heart, which was seen as the most important organ as it was the source of all human intelligence and was crucial to the process of entering the afterlife. “Heart Scarabs” often had magic spells inscribed on them and there was a specific spell from the book of the dead that prevented the heart testifying against its owner.

If you are interested in Ancient Egypt and would like to learn more about the Book of the Dead and other aspects of Ancient Egyptian life, religion and culture, please come down to the shop and chat to one of our volunteers who will be happy to help you navigate the amazing quantity of books we can offer you on this subject!

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