Secondhand Bookshops in Glasgow

Hillhead-Oxfam-1

Oxfam Bookshop at Hillhead, Glasgow. Just the kind of place to start a secondhand bookshop binge.

It’s great to have a secondhand bookshop binge. My visit this weekend was to Glasgow – the subject of this post – and the other was to Edinburgh, the subject of an upcoming post. I’ve visited most of the bookshops before whenever I’ve been in both cities, and nowadays they’re beginning to determine how I plan my days out.

The first to mention is Oxfam in Hillhead. This bookshop is in the west end of Glasgow near the botanic gardens. Just exit the subway station, turn right, and walk along the Byres Road for about 5 minutes.

Hillhead

Enjoy your secondhand bookshop tour in Glasgow by travelling on the Subway.

As you’d expect from an Oxfam bookshop, it’s well organised and friendly. I spoke with a volunteer who told me about how the shop benefits from occasional donations from academics at the nearby university. Nevertheless, the stock is general and varied. Nevertheless again, another volunteer was in deep discussion with a collector about a couple of items in a rare books case. This added to the ambience generated by what was a surprisingly busy Friday morning. In fact, I had to wait a while to get pictures without including shoppers and making them uneasy.

Oxfam Hillhead is large, bright, and busy – get out of my picture!

Oxfam Hillhead is large, bright – and busy: get out of my picture!

Nearby to the bookshop is a public library that has a reading gallery where you can peruse your purchases. There’s also a Fopp nearby, that superb CD/DVD/Blu-Ray/Book retailer everybody’s watching to see if its left-field and brainy selections will be affected by its recent acquisition by HMV. Fopp is probably here because Hillhead is a cosmo and well-healed(ish) area. This means you can check out the general charity shops for high quality donations of clothes. It’s also possible to go for a contemporary Glaswegian lunch between bookshops …

Eating in Glasgow is all about chipped potatoes, right?

Eating in Glasgow is all about chipped potatoes, right?

My next port of call for the day was Voltaire and Rousseau. This was a ride on the subway to Kelvinbridge. I’ve previously missed the place, so take note that Otago Lane is this left-hand turning as you go down Otago Street …

Blink and miss it.

Blink and miss it.

Everybody asks if you’ve ever been to or are planning to go to this bookshop. It also seems a popular subject for online comments. Maybe this is the Marmite of secondhand bookshops in the city? When I was there, one visitor told their companion that they were overwhelmed by information. Another exclaimed ‘I’m too big for this shop!’ I also found the disorder difficult to cope with.

Nothing took my fancy on the day. Yet it appears to cater well for anyone interested in classic texts of the ancient world and / or the sciences. Several visitors were engrossed, re-stacking piles they’d pulled books from, or decamping themselves to inspect volumes.

Finally, I visited the excellent Caledonia Books.

Kelvinbridge-SubwaySimply come out of the Subway, turn left to cross the bridge, and then walk for a couple of minutes down the Great Western Road.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

This is the kind of bookshop I’d aspire to run if I were a bookseller again. The stock is biased towards academic texts, whether mainstream or obscure, and though there are some piles of excess stock, the organisation is still superb, with pretty reliable alphabetisation. One day – when I have the budget – I’m going to have a serious splurge here. My only moan, as someone who used to photograph and list secondhand books online, is that the website is a letdown. You have to therefore visit in order to appreciate the superb stock. The fiction section is vast and intelligent. The biography section is of especial note. It’s a refreshing collection of people who have actually contributed to the sum total of knowledge of humankind rather than a scrum of nobodies pushing each other aside for attention. Allow enough time for a leisurely browse. Sublime in the Kantian sense.

I can’t recommend a secondhand bookshop binge enough. Which is why I have more to offer. Next time it’s Edinburgh.

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9 Responses to Secondhand Bookshops in Glasgow

  1. Letizia says:

    What a wonderful tour you’ve taken us on! I will make note of all this in case I have a chance to go to Glasgow again. Voltaire and Rousseau looks like it can be overwhelming but at the same time a place where you can reach out and randomly choose a book and see what you find to take home with you (something I like to do in secondhand bookshops). The Marmite analogy was so funny.

    Like

    • Jeff says:

      Voltaire and Rousseau reminds me of two other haphazard bookshops, one in Hexham, the other in Alston, that have alas been lost. I worry for owners who sit and read instead of work. The place undoubtedly has charm. Such a vulnerable thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ste J says:

    I think I need to take a trip to Glasgow, which until now was all football and Taggart so it’s nice to see another side. From your photo of V&R I couldn’t cope with that shop purely because I would need to remove all those books blocking the lower shelves to find out what treasures were under there.

    I did a quick internet search to find out where my local Oxfam is as I don’t recall seeing one for years and it turns out we don’t have one any more which is strange, it’s not like our town is bursting with shops or anything, there is one in Nottingham devoted purely to books though which does make me happy.

    I have also noticed that some Wetherspoons now have books in them, but when i have enquired twice (in Sherwood and Wigan) if the books were part of a lending library or if I could buy them the answer was that they were just for show, I have never been tempted to pub lift before but I was mighty close to doing so with some obscure travel and fiction books.

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    • Jeff says:

      > I would need to remove all those books blocking the lower shelves to find out what treasures were under there.

      To my mind, that’s why those piles are a counter-productive presence; they detract from rather than enhance the available stock, and in the process they alienate some of the shop’s visitorship. I’d either make alternative storage arrangements or just bin what realistically won’t sell. The latter course is what turned Foyles around from being a loss-maker.

      Glad you like the intro to Glasgow. I thought people should know how the bookshops connect locally. I shall have to write something one day on the shops in the centre of the city too.

      Pubs often buy books in by the yard. Sometimes they have surprises. I’ve once been out in a Wetherspoons with a group that ended up looking through a strange book by Bade-Powell, the scoutmaster himself. Weird evening.

      Are there not other dedicated charity bookshops in Nottingham? Barnardos and Amnesty have some good setups.

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  3. Ste J says:

    I don’t think there are any other purely book charity shops, we have a few independent book shops which is nice to see and the obligatory Waterstones as well, but I think I next time I hit a Wetherspoons in Nottingham I shall take a few unwanted books and swap them with any that fascinate me there which nobody reads anyway.

    I do like clutter in bookshops but it needs to be clutter that doesn’t get in the way too much, I remember being on my hands and knees, removing a front layer of books on shelves like an archaeologist and finding a copy of Abelard and Heloise hidden so far back I needed to use my phone as a mini torch, it is that sort of thing that makes me day, something that takes some getting to but doesn’t involve moving half a shop to get to.

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  4. nellyinroom says:

    Can I also recommend Leakey’s in Inverness, sited in a former church, complete with coffee shop. http://www.bookstoreguide.org/2008/08/leakeys-second-hand-bookshop-inverness.html

    It may not be on your doorstep, but I think you might enjoy it. Also, from memory there are interesting bookshops in Caithness just a few miles to the north.

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    • Jeff says:

      Aye, I only just recommended Leakey’s to someone in the comments to Bookcase Carlisle the other day. It’s been years since I went to Inverness, so next time I’ll go there.

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  5. Pingback: Thistle Books (and Alba Music) in Glasgow: Gallery | Recent Items

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