Sunday of 2nd week, and I had finally started recovering from the sleep-deprivation of May Day, so I decided it was time to pretend to revise somewhere other than my room. After spending the entire (post-bop) morning convincing myself to actually leave/watching the first five episodes of Peep Show, I finally ventured out into town at the respectable time of 1pm.
The weather actually resembled something like spring for once, so the walk along Banbury Road wasn’t quite as gruelling as usual, even when going past the Thom Building. There’s just something about the way the windows catch the sunlight on sunny days, even if it’s been ranked the ugliest university building in the UK on TikTok. I decided to go with a friend to a bookshop/café/pub called ‘Gulp Fiction’, which I’d often wanted to visit, but I’d never actually got round to doing, just like half of the reading I initially plan on doing for essays.
I’m really glad that I didn’t delay my visit any longer, because it is such a lovely environment: as soon as I stepped inside, it felt like I was entering another world, where literature was simply unrestrainedly appreciated, without any concern for essay deadlines. The interior design was warm and inviting, with the fiction books lining the walls of the bottom floor/café area, whilst the room upstairs contained a selection of non-fiction.
Several conversations about book recommendations from employees and customers alike pleasantly hummed in the background, with a frequent recommendation being Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. My friend and I did in fact order some coffee, which was delicious — just the right milk to coffee ratio. Unfortunately, I had to do a translation and seminar prep during my stay, but nevertheless, the brief respite from academia was nice while it lasted.
Oliver Mason, the owner, describes Gulp Fiction as “a bit different, something with a touch of revelry”, which is certainly the case in the hybrid nature of the shop — it functions as a bookshop, café and pub all at once, with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks on offer.
“I’ve been a bookseller for around eight years; I’ve worked for indies and chains as a buyer. When COVID happened I had a chance to get some breathing space and work on a business plan of my own,” he said.
“As we are a smaller shop, we can give each customer greater attention and time. I make sure that everyone that comes into the shop is welcomed as if it were my home. Waterstones, though brilliant, are too big to do that. The quality of our booksellers is unmatched by any other bookshop in the country, let alone Oxford. That sets us apart. People come in and have an experience unlike anywhere else.”
The support that Oliver offers to the local community is also unmatched: “We also have an array of events: music, talks, parties, all sorts. I’m also throwing a launch party this Friday [12th] for a local all-female press: ‘Edgeway Press’.”
I’m making a point of returning to Gulp Fiction, possibly for a jazz night, or even just to sit and read as a break from prelims revision. It’s such a welcoming place, whether you want to visit to get some excellent book recommendations from the booksellers, engage with the community through experiencing its musical or literary culture, or simply just study in a new environment. I left the shop with a copy of Selby Wynn Schwartz’s After Sappho, as well as a bookmark I can redeem for a free coffee whenever I visit next.