Oxford's Look-'Book'

Oxford’s Look-‘Book’: The First Visit to The Last Bookshop

I feel like it’s probably universally agreed that Oxford students have very little time to read recreationally in term time. Or, alternatively, we just have very little will to read — most people, after finally finishing that essay or problem sheet at 2am, seem to turn to re-watching a Netflix show for the sixth time to limit any extra mental exertion, even if it would simply require understanding the plot of a new show.

I think it’s a shame, though, that despite Oxford’s rich literary culture and history, we don’t have a lot of opportunity to visit the various independent bookshops around the city, and find hand-selected, carefully curated selections of books to enjoy in our free time. The only bookshop I had visited so far was Waterstones, and that was for the purpose of sitting in the café, attempting to romanticise the prospect of reading six articles about Book 23 and 24 of the Iliad within the next two days.

So, as a post-collections treat, I decided to indulge myself in the ‘dark academia’ aesthetic of Oxford – the reason all humanities students applied in the first place – and armed with a Daunt Books tote bag, I ventured out to Jericho to an independent bookshop twenty minutes away from LMH (why is everything twenty minutes away from LMH?), called The Last Bookshop.

From the outside, it already looked very inviting: a quaint little store, painted red, on Walton Street. As soon as I stepped in, I was greeted with a warm smile by a lady arranging some books, and I was taken aback by the sheer selection of genres within such a small space, which were also alphabetically ordered. These were all new books, which seemed to all be £3-4, and I noticed a deal where you could get two books for only £5.

I also ventured downstairs to the basement, which completely defied my expectations of its size based on the room upstairs, where I found an expanse of second-hand books – these were individually priced, and some of them even had handwritten inscriptions on their covers. Outside, there’s even a seating area where you can sit and read with a drink – unfortunately the April showers deprived me of that experience.

Since I had a train to catch in an hour, I was unfortunately unable to spend hours perusing the seemingly limitless selection of books (they also sell vinyls and postcards!), and I finally resolved on buying a £4 copy of Angela Carter’s Heroes and Villains. The lady at the till was lovely, and upon asking her about the history of the store, she referred to the origin story on the back of a free bookmark she gave me with the book.

The store is owned by Bill and Ben Books, an Oxford-based independent bookseller run by Jake Pumphrey and Nick Walsh, which aims to recycle overstock in their stores from warehouses, and also second-hand books from local homes. Their first store, Pumpkin Books, was opened in Gloucester Green in 1994 – ever since then, they have been growing their business through wholesale and have also started a website (billandbenbooks.co.uk) .

Despite The Last Bookshop’s almost apocalyptic name concerning the state of the bookselling industry, which was apparently a reflection on the pessimism which came about with the release of the Kindle, I hope that people will continue supporting these businesses which provide unique experiences which simply can’t be replicated at larger retailers. I know it definitely won’t be my ‘last’ time visiting this bookshop (sorry), as I’ll definitely take advantage of that outdoors space when the weather finally improves.