Thursday 12 June 2014

Join the community

I'm pretty certain I can't be the only one who's dreamed of owning their own bookshop, spending their days surrounded by books, chatting to book lovers, drinking in the smell, drinking cups of tea and occasionally getting bossed around by my bookshop cat.

But given the ratio of bookshops to people (and I'm guessing a much less dream-like reality) that's not possible for all of us. So one day about eight years ago I did the next best thing: I started volunteering at Oxfam Bookshop, Maidstone.

My days of regularly helping out are long since over, but having spent many happy years sorting books (the recycling was always sad), serving customers and stocking shelves on a Saturday afternoon, this bookshop will always be special to me.

Which is why this week, as I finally pack my bags and move to a new town, I'm deviating slightly from the usual visit and purchase (although both did happen for the purposes of this blog) and sharing my general love for the shop instead.

Because all bookshops are part of the community, but it was only when I got to spend prolonged periods of time in one that I was able to truly appreciate just how true this is.

It began by getting to know the other volunteers. From teenagers to silver surfers and everything in between, these were some of my first friends in the town and years later I still go drinking (both beer and tea) with many of them.

Then came the customers. It took a lot longer to get to know them, but gradually chats about books would grow into general conversations, followed by hellos in the street, and even a trip to a beer festival. And those customers I didn't get to know properly were still a great part of the experience, with memorable chats ranging from why Ayn Rand is the most visionary writer in the world or the refusal to accept The Hunger Games could be written by a children's author, to countless 'lively discussions' regarding the merits of history over romance (and vice versa). This last subject is always a good one for capturing the attention of everyone in the room.

As for the bookshop itself, well naturally that's generally bright and welcoming, with two floors of books, CDs, vinyl and DVDs meaning even the non-reading residents of Maidstone are encouraged in to search the music on offer.

My weakness as a volunteer was generally the classics, science fiction or recommendations, with me loitering by those shelves at some point during my shift and rarely managing to leave without a book or five. Indeed, on the day of this visit I left with two great reads, snapping up a pair of Professor Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw's popular science books: The quantum universe: Everything that can happen does happen, and Why does E=mc2?

Maidstone now has three havens for book lovers, an indie, a chain, and the Oxfam Bookshop, all of which I've come to know and love during my time in the town, and all of which I'll be returning to for their varied attractions.

The first has the obvious appeal of being a beautiful independent bookshop, the second is in a convenient high street spot, and the third? It's a community of book lovers just waiting to welcome you.

Oxfam Bookshop Maidstone
34 Gabriels Hill, Maidstone, Kent, ME15 6JJ
Tel: 01622 753585


  1. Wow - moving home and you still find time to post a blog for us. Thank you - I think we can forgive you the lack of a photo!

    I hope you get your head (and books) out of boxes soon. Treat yourself to regular reading breaks - doesn't matter if the unpacking takes a little longer - you'll stay a little saner!.

    1. Thanks Susanne, I'm certainly taking lots of reading breaks - I have no internet at home yet so I'm both enjoying and struggling with the escape from the virtual world.

      A full blogging service will resume as soon as possible though!


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