A guide to buying books sustainably
Manon Martini, Arts + Lit Editor, reveals the best places to buy second-hand books and the joys of rehoming preloved books instead of buying new ones.
In an age of environmental crisis, the question of sustainability while reading has become a vital debate as we contemplate our next read. With dedicated second-hand bookshops such as Oxfam and Book Cycle on our doorstep, many of us are turning to preloved book shops for cheaper and more sustainable alternatives. That being said, with independent shops such as Book Bag at our fingertips and industry giants like Amazon threatening to take over the book-selling industry, we are left to wonder; where should we buy our books?
Book Bag is a pocket rocket book shop that makes the most of a relatively small space to promote a vibrant abundance of carefully selected reads. Situated in McCoys arcade in Fore Street, Book Bag was boldly opened in between lockdowns and thankfully remains a vital part of Exeter’s literary scene. Whilst the shop boasts a wide variety of material, its shelves prioritise stories from female writers and writers of colour that aren’t always stocked or prioritised elsewhere. Book Bag is a quintessential indie store in that it fulfils a cultural mission that goes beyond book sales, all the while maintaining an intimate, yet socially important, ambience.
Book Bag is a quintessential indie store in that it fulfils a cultural mission that goes beyond book sales
Book Bag provides a spotlight to voices often suppressed and ignored, whilst also providing relevant literary criticism of the likes of Audre Lorde and Bell Hooks. The shop has insured that the writing of black and minority authors is thrust into the hands of the Exeter buyer. Book Bag holds a social and educational significance in Exeter and is well worth a visit. My recent reads from the shelves of Book Bag include A Feminist Theory of Violence by Françoise Vergès and Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo and Milk Fed by Melissa Broader- all of which are well worth a read!
Book Cycle is a UK-based charity that seeks to empower children through literacy and promote environmental sustainability with its ‘free’ bookshops. Book Cycle is unique in that there are no fixed price tags so the buyer decides the value of a book. Boasting a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, there is truly something for everyone. Whilst I have recently picked up an untouched edition of Casey McQuiston’s Red, White and Royal Blue, I have also discovered gems such as a heavily annotated copy of Sigmund Freud’s Civilisation and its Discontents. Whilst the question of book annotation is a controversial one for many, I found the palimpsestial annotations to be extremely useful in my own understanding of the text as I read the book alongside its previous owners. If you want a book that’s as cheap as you decide, and you don’t mind a bit of grime between the pages, Book Cycle is the place for you!
Oxfam is the UK’s largest retailer of secondhand books and raises money through its sales to support families on the poverty line. The Exeter branch is a welcoming and well-organised shop with an accommodating selection of good quality reads. Books that I’ve picked up at Oxfam include Margaret Atwood’s The Testament and Ali Smith’s Autumn. Whilst the books have certainly been read and loved,
they don’t quite boast the level of annotation and pre-reader interference as those of Book Cycle! That being said, Oxfam books are a cheap and ethical option and their online store ensures that you can find exactly what you’re looking for.
Whilst Waterstones has been a landmark feature of the UK’s literary scene for generations, I feel that in an age of online shopping it’s important that we don’t take these physical stores for granted. We are very lucky in Exeter to have two Waterstones stores which ensure accessible literature for all, as well as cosy cafes and an inviting literary environment. With a total of five floors of books on Exeter’s high street, Waterstones boasts an extremely wide selection of reads from romance fiction to cookbooks as well as a team of enthusiastic and helpful staff.
Whether you prefer a crisp new read or a pre-loved bargain, I think it is important to support all physical book shops- particularly those indi stores unique to Exeter like Book Bag. Whether you prefer your books new or old- just don’t buy them from Amazon!