You can tell a hell of a lot about the demographics of an area by browsing its charity shop bookshelves.
Take the Oxfam on Kingsland Road, for example. An anthropologist would find no better place to start assembling a picture of East London’s bookworms than right here. My own observations, collected this morning, suggest that it’s an area brimming with:
Humans in general – there are a lot of books.
Journalists in particular, judging by the many review copies and ‘uncorrected bound proofs’ on sale
Guardian readers – plenty of investigative books written by Guardian journalists, such as Polly Toynbee and Will Hutton.
Fans of Australian literature I found books by Tim Winton, Deborah Robertson and even a copy of A Fortunate Life by AB Facey. I’ve already got them so I left them on the shelves for some other lucky shopper.
Fans of Nigerian literature: Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie were both making an appearance.
Mavens The many how-to and consumer guides make me suspect that there are a fair few Mavens in East London. For those who haven’t read The Tipping Point, these are a particularly obsessive breed of shopper. These uber-consumers are not only incredibly well-informed on everything from shoe polish to Bugaboos; they also play an important role in keeping the market honest because they happily share their findings, and so are equally feared and respected by manufacturers.
I bought six books, mostly ones I’ve vaguely had on my mental reading list anyway – among them were Alice Munro’s short stories, a collection of gothic short stories, Martin Amis’ The Rachel Papers, because when I started reading it I wanted to go on, and a review copy of Sally Nicholl’s book, Ways to Live Forever. I also took home Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work, because the final chapter of her novel Arlington Park – a drunken middle-class dinner party with a blow-by-blow account of the most grisly cooking imaginable – made me want to read more of her writing. PS Have now read this – it’s a brilliant & very frank memoir about the reality of having a child. I’m not surprised that it generated an awful lot of controversy.
Every book costs one pound, so leave your calculators at home. And the general ambience of the place – it’s well lit, they play music (in fact, they once hosted a Jarvis Cocker gig) and there are plenty of books to go round – gives the fiction area a particularly friendly buzz.
Oxfam, 514-518 Kingsland Road, Dalston, London
Tel 020 7254 5318, oxfam.org.uk
And they have a blog