Oxford's Look-'Book'

Oxford’s Look-‘Book’: Arcadia

After a long weekend of confining myself to the LMH library (as a result of going out two nights in a row and getting very little revision done towards the end of the week), the 5th week blues were already beginning to lower my serotonin levels, even though it was only Monday morning. Nevertheless, to cure my sleep-deprivation – this was the result of me binge-watching the new Bridgerton series, not working – I decided to go to Greggs (not Pret, because I’m not like other girls) to get a coffee, and more importantly, to visit a bookshop I’d often heard about: ‘Arcadia’.  

I tried my best to avoid getting trampled on by the hordes of schoolchildren and tourists marching down Cornmarket Street, and turned onto St Michael’s Street — Arcadia is the first thing building on the right. The shopfront was very charming, with a carefully arranged selection of flowers and books, certainly living up to the utopian harmony suggested by its classically inspired name.  

As soon as I stepped into Arcadia, at the risk of using a cliché, it genuinely felt like stepping into an oasis of calm compared to the chaos just metres away. Maybe this is a result of contaminating my brain with too much Bridgerton, but the interior resembled something from the Regency or Victorian era — the classical music in the background might have also contributed to this. There was such a wide range of products in a relatively small space: birthday cards, calendars, postcards, and candles, to name a few.  

Many of the books had been carefully wrapped up in plastic for their protection, especially the older ones, with some dating back to the 1940s-1960s. There was even a little crate containing a selection of free books, within which I spotted a massive French dictionary which must have been at least seventy years old — I would have taken if if I had a bigger bag with me than my flimsy tote. 

I talked to the owner, a lovely, soft-spoken man called Michael Keirs, who runs the shop with his wife, Andrea Keirs. He told me that the shop was initially founded in the 1940s as a paperback-only shop, which the couple bought in 1975. They have been co-running the shop since, for almost fifty years. He gave me some much-needed validation about how Classics and French was an incredibly interesting and useful degree and my parents must be proud of me, and from the way he spoke about the shop, it was obvious that he genuinely adored his job.  

After a heartwarming conversation, he asked me if I had bought any books yet, and when I told him that I had, he asked me to follow him to a beautiful selection of postcards — I was able to take one for free, as a ‘little gift’, in his words. I left the shop feeling very fulfilled, with a free postcard, a birthday card with a very cute watercolour of a badger on it, and a copy of Vladimir Rybakov’s ‘The Burden’.