24 April 2014

Tales from an Oxford Bookshop


I ventured into St. Philip's Books on one of my last days in Oxford. It held a lot of books for clergy and on church history. I don't really read any of those kinds of books, but I made a loop around the shop, and decided to head out.

But as I was heading toward the exit, I noticed one corner (under the "more books" sign) where a man was looking at a shelf I did not glance at, yet. So, I paused and craned my neck to see what the shelves contained. To my utmost delight there were several shelves labelled "C.S. Lewis and the Inklings"!

I started pulling books off the shelf that I had never seen before, and that's saying a lot because I own every C.S. Lewis book I can ever get my hands on. I flipped to the copyright page of many books I held, and they were first editions! My heart skipped a beat. (I realize I am coming across as a huge book nerd, but that's who I am!) But then my heart dropped as I glanced at the price, written in pencil inside the front cover. They ranged from £
40- £60. That's roughly $60- $80. I just cannot pay that much for a book. 

Almost feeling dejected that I couldn't buy any C.S. Lewis books, I glanced at the next shelves to the right, and there my little eyes did catch the name of G.K. Chesterton on many many spines of books! Another author who I delight in and snatch up any books I can get my hands on. Again, there were numerous titles I had never seen before, and I pulled several off the shelf. I smiled when I saw the prices ranging from £
4 -£9. Now, that I can manage.

I picked out two G.K. Chesterton hardback books of essays that were old and small in size (my favourite kind), but not first editions.

I had the two in my hand when suddenly a lady came up behind me and asked "Would you like me to buy you a book?"

I didn't even realize there was anyone standing behind me, and wasn't sure if she was talking to me. I turned toward her and asked, "I'm sorry?"

"Would you like me to buy you a book?" She asked again.
I wasn't sure how to respond, so I said , "Well, I am going to buy these two...."
"And I would like to buy one." She completed my sentence.
"That's very kind of you. You don't have to do that." I replied.
"Oh, but I want to. I hear that you are an American and I am very fond of your country, and I like to support this bookshop." She replied.

I thanked her and smiled at such a random act of kindness. She asked which book I wanted her to buy. The two I picked out were affordable (
£4 and £6) so I held one book in each hand and held them out, telling her it doesn't matter. She took one, and began to pay for it. She looked at the book I was buying and was very impressed with my selection of Chesterton. Then she asked me about where I was from and if I knew about the Chesterton society in America. She named several things I did not know about, and ended up taking a sheet of paper to make notes for me to look up certain things when I got back home.

She paid for my book, I thanked her about 20 times, asked what her name was (Harriet), then she shook my hand, wished me a Happy Easter and cheerfully left. I paid for my book and tucked them both into my travel tote bag, and went off to celebrate at dinner. There I sat and read the note and started reading one of the books. I just couldn't stop smiling about the cheerful giver who had just brightened an already bright visit to Oxford.

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