Marie Forsyth on books and bookselling, Anna Trench

Shop with a Heart

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Every Friday afternoon I go to work in our local Amnesty secondhand bookshop, and each week I notice a shabby cover of a book entitled If Jesus Came to My House stuck on one of the walls. Few people see this unusual decoration as it is over the back stairs, with an admonitory notice next to it which reads, ‘This slim tatty little volume sold for £30.’ The book in question was sold by the shop’s Internet team, and serves to remind the staff that they may not know what a book is worth until they start selling it to someone else.

With new and second-hand bookshops closing all over the country, how does our bookshop survive, flourish and send thousands of pounds to Amnesty International every year? Naturally it helps that all the books are donated and the shop is run by twenty-six volunteers. The Volunteer Co-ordinator told me during my induction that ‘we have an entirely flat management structure. No one is more important than anyone else.’ Anyone who has worked in an organization of more than two people knows that this has always been a Utopian dream, but it is still an admirable principle. It may also be necessary in this context as charity-shop work tends to attract retired people who can experience sudden health problems. ‘We have three heart conditions here,’ said the Co-ordinator imperturbably.

What is required of the voluntary staff? They clearly need to be literate and numerate and to have patience with the moodiness of the ancient till, but much of the success of the shop depends on those who have developed an appreciation of the monetary value of books which only comes with experience. A new volunteer with a working knowledge of Shakespeare, English poetry, nineteenth-century fiction and Booker prize winners will not know how to price a book called A Dictionary of Poultry. Or again, a title like Medieval Church Screens of the Southern Marches may not be universally appealing, but a check on the I

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About the contributor

Marie Forsyth is surrounded by books at home and at work. Occasionally she feels the need to go into competition and write herself. She writes very slowly in French to friends in France and very quickly in English to everyone else.

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