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Bookshop of the Quarter: Autumn 2020

Daunt Books Summertown

Oxford is home to a host of literary greats, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, Lewis Carroll, Iris Murdoch and Philip Pullman to name a few. And, as of last month, it is home to a brand-new branch of Daunt Books, who bring their signature independent spirit, smart aesthetic and bookselling expertise to Oxford-based bibliophiles.

We’ve had a long and happy relationship with Daunt Books since the early days of Slightly Foxed, and we are stocked in all their bookshops, so we were very pleased to hear that another branch was opening in August – some welcome news. It will be wonderful to visit in person but in the meantime, we were delighted to speak to bookseller Elizabeth about favourite titles, recent customers and life at this new branch of a bookselling institution.

Please tell us about your bookshop. What makes it special?

For me, what makes Daunt Books special are our countries sections. Part of our shops are organized by location, with fiction and non-fiction shelved alongside the travel guides. It’s very good for browsing and back when I was a Daunt customer I came across so many wonderful books I’m not sure I’d have easily found otherwise. As for what makes us in Summertown special – perhaps it’s that we opened during a pandemic!

What inspired you to become a bookseller?

Mostly, other booksellers. I’d known for a while I wanted to work with books one way or another, but wasn’t quite sure in what form. A lot of my now favourite books were recommended to me by booksellers, and those recommendations always felt particularly special – from someone who really knew what they were talking about, and who was excited to share it with me, knowing I was about to read something I’d likely treasure forever. I hadn’t really considered bookselling until all of sudden it seemed like the only thing I could ever possibly do.

What are your all-time favourite reads and why?

I have so many (I bet everybody says that!) but there is an ever-expanding list that comes to mind when I’m asked this question.

Black Milk by Elif Shafak

– The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead

You Can’t Catch Death by Ianthe Brautigan

We That Are Young by Preti Taneja

The Polyglot Lovers by Lina Wolff 

The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor 

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

– Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski series

I think what they all have in common is that each of them made me think differently – some in small ways, others in big ways – and that’s what I like in a book.

Who would be your dream bookshop party guests?

Dorothy Parker would be top of the list. 

Who is your favourite customer and what is your favourite bookshop anecdote?

All of the young readers currently coming in for the new Robin Stevens book, Death Sets Sail, which is the last in her Murder Most Unladylike series. It’s the best thing to witness that excitement, and remember the books that made me feel that way when I was younger. And once a customer came in looking for a particular book, coincidentally at the exact same time the author was signing copies in the shop. The look on his face when he realized was wonderful – I think it made his day!

What are your top picks for autumn 2020?

This autumn is going to be incredibly busy for new publications. It’s normally busy anyway, but especially this year with lots of titles delayed by the pandemic. Sarah Moss and Claudia Rankine are two of my favourite writers and both have new books out (Summerwater and Just Us: An American Conversation respectively), so I am really excited to read those, and a new book from Elena Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults, is a big event! 

There’s lots of great titles coming out in paperback too: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Water Dancer, Casey Cep’s Furious Hours, Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay would be my top picks.

247 Banbury Road
Oxford OX2 7HN

Daunt Books Summertown
Twitter @DauntSummertown
Instagram @dauntsummertown

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