Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Bookshop A Day #18: CUP Bookshop, Cambridge

On the run up to release of The Bookshop Book on the 2nd October, I'm going to be blogging about a bookshop every day to celebrate wonderful bookshops and booksellers all around the world. (#bookshopaday). Today I want to tell you about:

The CUP Bookshop, Cambridge

I had a chat with Alastair, who works there:

Hi, Al! Where can we find you? 

Right in the centre of Cambridge close to the market square and in sight of King’s College Chapel.

Describe your bookshop in three words.


What’s going to catch our eye as soon as we walk through the door?

Our display of new publications, and our ‘green bags in seven colours’

(Fairtrade tote bags promoted as a green/eco-friendly alternative to plastic). The seasoned book buyer will also notice pretty quickly that we only sell books published by Cambridge University Press, so we’re quite unusual.

What’s the best event you’ve ever done?

One of the nicest events we do is the Alumni Tea Party that we host for the University of Cambridge every year. It’s not an event intended to make sales or to raise our profile outside the University community especially but it’s lovely to hear generations of Cambridge students come back and share their memories of Cambridge and of the bookshop. It’s heartening to know that people associate the bookshop with some of their fondest memories.

And your best customer moment?

Probably the funniest request was from an American lady asking if we had any CDs of Shakespeare reading the Bible. Also, I always smile when I remember a CUP author who, seeing me struggle with back pain, invited me to lie on the floor with her so that she could demonstrate some physiotherapy exercises whilst the other customers simply stepped over us as if nothing unusual was happening.

Recommend a book you’ve been loving recently.

I’ve finally got to the final part of John Updike’s Rabbit series. It is utterly absorbing. I also enjoyed Robert Harris’ An Officer and a Spy recently.

Why did you become a bookseller?

I became a Bookseller as a stop gap in between studies with the aim of paying off my University debts. In the end I managed to keep my job and continue my studies part time, so having my cake and eating it. Sadly I managed to keep my debts too.

Why are you still a bookseller?

For one thing I’ve never known what it is that I want to do when I grow up. But also I think bookselling is fundamentally a decent trade that attracts good people which is a lot more than can be said about other professions. I might not be changing the world with what I do but hopefully I’m not doing any harm either. And maybe, just maybe one of my customers will buy a book from me that does inspire some world-changing event.

If you could open a bookshop anywhere else in the world, where would you open it and why?

I’d be hard pressed to think of anywhere better than Cambridge given the number of willing and appreciative customers that abound. The location takes some beating too. Having said that, a quiet community in the countryside where you could really get to know all your customers quite appeals.

Sum up what books and bookshops mean to you in one sentence.

Books should be as essential to any high street as the butcher, the baker, the post office and the books they sell should nourish and support those communities in their own fundamental way.


Details of The Bookshop Book are 
here. You can pre-order signed copies (shipping worldwide) here

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating and thoughtful discussion. I loved the two best customer moments! Thank you