Your bookshops #25, Cambridge University Press Bookshop

I should have known a sale in a bookshop would be a civilised affair, but somehow this guest post by Paul Taylor exceeds all my expectations of just how genteel it could be. A Twitter friend, bookshop fan and self-confessed eater of cheese (good man), he's made the mistake of promising me a few more guest posts on much-loved bookshops in the future...

Cambridge University Press Bookshop
1 Trinity Street, 

Tel: 01223 333333
Published: 18th January, 2017

Cambridge University Press is the oldest publishing house in the world, with international presence and standing. But in the city of Cambridge itself, the CUP is perhaps most visible through its bookshop, located on the oldest bookshop site in the country, and directly opposite the university's imposing Senate House.

It is – literally – a shop of two halves, joined by an internal door. One half is a showcase for the CUP's academic publications; the other normally specialises in their schools and English Language books. But in January each year, that second half is transformed into the home for the CUP book sale. Like those pop-up shops that take over empty retail units, the sale takes over the CUP shop and remakes it, there for just a few weeks per year before vanishing away.

This year's sale started last week, and, as always, it will continue until the stock is gone. The stock, you ask? The stock! Books from the full range of CUP publications, some costing well over £100, are reduced to rock-bottom, single-figure prices, often because of barely visible damage. There's no way of knowing what will be there, and the books aren't shelved in any order, but if you're willing to spend the time, there are treasures to be found...

During the sale, I try to visit the shop on most days, and I'm not the only one. Hard-up students; academics; and ordinary enthusiasts like me – we queue up at the start of the day, eager to see what's been put out overnight, and then we circulate around the shop, speed-reading along the shelves, arms weighed down with our finds. I develop special skills for spotting a book at a dozen paces, excusing myself past other shoppers, and then picking it off the shelf before moving quickly on to the next. We're all there in search of bargains, but the competition is a largely good-natured one, and our interests are diverse: I'm pleased for someone thrilled by their bargain on international law, but I wouldn't want it myself; and they wouldn't begrudge me my book on opera in the French novel.

In the middle of all of this are the shop's staff, in what must be their busiest few weeks of the year. Constantly restocking the shelves, taking payment for piles upon piles of books (and that's just me – see photo!), and answering the same questions dozens of times a day, each time with a patience that suggests it’s the first. They’re superb, and so is the sale. This year’s sale may not last much longer, but make a note for next time: if you can make it to Cambridge in January, you really should.

Thank you very much to Paul for sharing his experience of the CUP sale. I'm both pleased and gutted to have read this – it sounds like a great bookshopping experience and I wish I could get there for a visit before the sale ends!

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