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Friday, July 30, 2010 

A paean to charity shops.

I'll be the first to admit that only slightly less depressing than a high street full of empty shops is one consisting almost entirely of charity shops. This shouldn't necessarily be the case however. When done right, they can be fabulous places and the "big names" usually manage to do the difficult job of balancing off the unsellable tat from the genuine bargains which they get donated, and to be fair, they can only work with what they're given; it's usually the more obscure, locally based organisations in outlets where the paint is almost invariably peeling which let the side down. Even then though they're always worth a quick browse, especially if they've got a hefty CD rack, where I can almost always manage to find one single or another from the 90s to add to my unhealthily sized collection of dance music and incredibly guilty pleasures, or sometimes both.

Best of all though are the dedicated second hand charity bookshops. Admittedly, for the most part the fiction sections are usually full of intolerable trash, although I've still managed to pick up some Will Self from my local one. Where it continues to amaze me is in what it gets outside of the holiday reading cast-offs. Last time I paid a visit I picked up a first edition hardback of Roy Jenkins' biography of Churchill (complete with message inside from whomever gave it as a Christmas present), as well as Francis Wheen's Tom Driberg biog and have in the past got E.H. Carr's multi-volume history of early Soviet Russia, Bakunin on Anarchy, David McDuff's superb translations of both Crime and Punishment and the Brothers Karamazov and too many other great discoveries to list. Today's haul still must be one of the best yet:

The Prophet Armed - Trotsky 1879 - 1921 by Issac Deutscher (paperback) (also previously got his rather thin Stalin biog from the same place)
Michael Foot by Mervyn Jones (hardback)
As If by Blake Morrison (hardback)
The Gulag Archipelago - Second Volume by Solzhenitsyn (paperback) (got the first from the same place some time back, as well as the First Circle and One Day in the Life of...)
Kalki by Gore Vidal (paperback)

How much? £5.50 the lot. I also nearly picked up Peter Ackroyd's biog of Thomas More, but thought it'll probably still be there next time.

Every town deserves a similar shop, and for every dismal, run-down charity hovel attempting to sell mouldy boardgames, hornpipe trousers and flowery 70s shirts, there's one that's hosting a treasure trove, even if not one to you personally, just waiting to be discovered. Try it sometime.

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Charity bookshops are magic - I used to work right near one and a mate of mine who's a designer used to spend ages searching for brilliant old school cover designs.

You might like Robin Ince's Bad Book Club, which covers some of the bed books he's managed to find in these places.

I once mnaged to get a book of Jonathan Lethem short stories, tears before I even knew who Jonathan Lethem was.

I have an unedited galley of John Irving's 'The Imaginary Girlfriend' I picked up from one somewhere on a rainy afternoon. Excellent stuff.

Love 'em! The local chazzer in my village has been flogging off huge iles of books at 25p each over the last few weeks, and recent acquisitions have included;

Neil Kinnock's official biography (signed, 1st edition)
Betty Boothroyd's autobiography (signed, 1st edition)
a complete set of Yes, Minister scripts
three George P. Pelecanos novels (hardback)
a set of nine Edgar Wallace novels (hardback)
two Anthony Burgess novels
Years of Russia and the USSR 1851-1991 by David Evans and Jane Jenkins
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
John Arlott's biography of Fred Trueman
and about half-a-dozen large reference books on everything from the British countryside to Greek mythology.

Some of the DVDs at a quid each have been pretty good too; Y Tu Mama Tambien, Frank Miller's Sin City and Plan Nine From Outer Space among them. Of course, you have to wade through wagonloads of Dan Brown, Klaus Wunderlich and VHS box sets of Friends to get to the gold but it's well worth it.

This article is spot on! I love charity shops to bits, I think of my 700+ books about two-thirds are from various Age Concerns and Oxfams etc. Best haul was when I picked up - aged 15 - The Revolution Betrayed by Trotsky, Das Kapital by Marx and The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer for the sum of £2.75... could only assume some old lefty had died or given up the cause! :)

Definitely. Support your local charity shop. Along with books and music the better ones are a dab hand at cheap jeans and the like.

Witney has four or five brilliant charity shops. You can buy posh-as-owt labels like - for the ladies - Karen Millen and Monsoon, for a tiny fraction of the original price. There's an Animal Sanctuary shop which sells furniture and kitchenware, an Oxfam bookshop and several in between.

But because it's the stamping ground of David "Big Society" Cameron and his massed ranks of unbearable snobs who hide behind their melty-faced master's fake compassion, it always acts slightly embarrassed of them. The local Chamber of Commerce - basically the decision-making mechanism of the town council - would never dream of making as much of them as they quite rightly deserve, which is: considerably more than many of the other local independent shops, and a world more than all the chains on the new Swiss-owned shopping centre built on the flood plain.

Elsewhere, the Woolgate shopping centre has a few empty lots since Adams went belly-up, and will happily tolerate the stinkiest butcher in all Christendom, but a little bird tells me they have a policy preventing charity shops - even a posh boutique Oxfam one - from setting up there. I mean, they'll allow Superdrug to set up Ned Central right by Waitrose, because, well, it's not a charity shop, is it, so it must be a cut above.

All you get in charity shops round here are; Jeffrey Archer, Catherine Cookson, Ken Follet, Penny Vincenzi (who?).
The CD racks are dominated by one Peter Andre.
Still, if you're going to get rid of stuff ...

Yes to this one. Snapped up an armful from me local Red Cross: four for a pound, with a signed Paul Auster. (And a good half hour spent rooting through musty ol' books.)

(Antiquarian shops are less appealing. Stumbled into a collector's fair, looking for cheap paperbacks. On display was a big hardback of Pederasty In Ancient Greece - a mere £60.)

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