Friday 30 March 2018

M40, Junction 11, where to find bookshop heaven

Bookshops are the answer to most of life's problems. From discovering magic, learning to make tiramisu, or even just finding out What Katy Did Next, there's generally a bookseller who'll be more than happy to put the answer into your hands.

Another thing bookshops are the answer to is finding somewhere to relax and take stock when you're nearing the end of a 120-mile drive to visit your old school.*

Books & Ink Bookshop in Banbury – found less than 10 minutes from junction 11 of the M40 – was exactly what I needed, in the form of a warm and cheery safe haven to calm my nerves. Terrible M25 traffic earlier in the journey meant I didn't have long to enjoy the bookshop, but the brief time I had there was a treat.

This is another of those destinations I've wanted to visit since the early days of this blog, so I admit I was a little annoyed with myself that I didn't have longer to spend there this time, but Books & Ink was so lovely, so big and so easy to get to that I know this will be the first of many visits. So what was so special?

This bookshop sells new, secondhand and antiquarian books, but walk through the door and it's impossible to pigeonhole. I knew what kind of bookshop I was visiting but my eyes didn't necessarily believe it. The first thing I spotted was a case of antiquarian books, but the bookshop was bright and colourful and I was soon distracted by a good-sized children's area, followed by the overall mix of new and secondhand books. I'd venture to say I'm yet to see any other bookshop that so successfully balances the three offerings without any one overwhelming: the new, secondhand and antiquarian are in perfect harmony here.

There were Ladybirds, Pelicans and Penguins. Observers. A range of travel. Secondhand children's books in stunningly good condition. Shelves for a pound and a great selection of subjects or book styles. For example I was impressed by the "newspapers/journalism" area, while the effort taken to bunch together the fiction criteria of "archaeology/history/mystery in the style of Dan Brown" is surely more than any bookseller should be asked to go through, and yet that effort had been made. There are also lots of nice details, from bunting and tote bags in the air to Bagpuss, poking his head out from one of the high shelves as he quietly observes us all.

The bookshop is maze-like but open, crammed to the rooftop but light and spacious. If you want to wander and get lost, you can, but the layout also means each area felt like an individual bookshop while remaining part of the whole. It also covers two floors. There's a lot to see. Yes, this paragraph is rather rambling, but this is how my mind was working as I wandered around, admiring details, marvelling at how cheap some of the books were and generally de-stressing. I was calm, I was happy, I could've stayed all day.

Instead I had that school talk to get to so I chose my book, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym for a mere £2, and went to say hello to the bookseller and meet Bookshop Paddington. I was still a little nervous about the afternoon ahead, so rather than enjoy a proper conversation with someone I've frequently talked to on social media, it was more of a one-sided outpouring of words by me, for which I now apologise. I'm only grateful my enthusiasm and excitement didn't send the bookseller running for cover. As for Paddington, he'd taken the day off, so that's another reason for me to return to the bookshop – and next time I'll check it's one of his working days first.

My visit can't have lasted more than half an hour but that really didn't matter. Books & Ink is so well arranged and has such a welcoming feel that were you to pop in for a quick purchase or browse the afternoon away I'm certain your time would be perfectly well spent.

Books & Ink Bookshop
4 White Lion Walk,
Oxfordshire OX16 5UD
Tel: 01295 709769

If you'd like to know more about Books & Ink Bookshop, read what a guest blogger had to say in Your Bookshops.

*For anyone interested, I was visiting my old school to talk to the sixth form about my career and the life experiences that have helped me along the way (including this blog). At least one pupil seemed interested so I feel I achieved something useful. It was both good and strange to be back at school after so long and I really enjoyed catching up with my former English teacher.

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