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Cindy Sherman @oxfambooksn1 London
Cindy Sherman as seen in the pages of Uta Grosenick’s ‘Women Artists in the 20th & 21st Century’@oxfambooksn1

Iggy Pop, Cindy Sherman, and Derek Ridgers: inside a secondhand book mecca

Rare art, fashion, music, and design books are uncovered every day at North London institution @oxfambooksn1

There’s something about heading into a bookshop, thumbing through its shelves, and leaving with a brand new, undiscovered title that clicking your way through Amazon will never be able to replace.

Right now, independent booksellers are thriving after a 20 year decline, as more and more of us log off and head out in search of a more emotional, tactile experience – and our new favourite novel. If you’re something of a voracious reader, though, satiating your habit can be pretty expensive. Which is where secondhand bookshops come in.

“I’ve always really loved shopping for secondhand books – I like the idea that they all have their own unique story that comes with them,” says Dazed editor-in-chief Isabella Burley, who last year began volunteering in London’s Islington branch of Oxfam Books. “Some arrive in totally great condition and you can tell whoever owned it really treasured it, and I love finding ones that have personal inscriptions.” She also notes that it’s a more sustainable way to read: not only in terms of how much further your money will take you, and also how much better it is for the planet to reuse and recycle books as opposed to buying them new.

Having first started shopping at the bookstore in her late teens, Burley signed up as a volunteer at the end of 2018 – and soon after took over the store’s Instagram. Documented on @oxfambooksn1 are some of the best publications she and the rest of the team uncover from the countless donation boxes that arrive every day.

“A few weeks ago, we got the super rare Jeremy Deller Iggy Pop Life Class book, which had been signed by Jeremy. Upstairs (where certain rare items are held to be listed on Amazon) I found a copy of Derek Ridgers’ Shockwave. I love Derek Ridgers but I’d never seen this one – the art direction and the shocking pink cover is so cool,” she explains. “For me though, it’s discovering titles that I’m not familiar with that’s really exciting. I’m obsessed with an amazing one I got recently called Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms. It’s full of all these insane, 80s visuals of mushrooms, which sounds mad, but it’s really, really good!”

Elsewhere on the Instagram are finds including the script for cult 90s movie True Romance, a Boris Mikhailov exhibition catalogue, Chloé Griffin’s oral history of John Waters-collaborator Cookie Mueller, and the legendary Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger.

Recently Burley also uncovered a copy of the first issue of the biannual artist’s journal The Happy Hypocrite, edited by Maria Fusco. “Weirdly, when I was 18, my first ever interview was with Cosey Fanni Tutti and Maria Fusco around an exhibition and talk series at the ICA. Maria gifted me the first copy of The Happy Hypocrite, (Linguistics Hardcore) which focused heavily on Cosey's work. I still have that copy at home, but when I saw another one at the shop I got it again – you know, just in case,” she laughs.

Burley’s involvement with Oxfam Books doesn’t end when she finishes her weekend shift, though. Given her obvious connections with the fashion industry, at the end of last year she teamed up with Selfridges, who had seen the Instagram and were keen to gift a number of editors a specially selected book. “It was really fun to go through and pick out some really cool ones. There was an old copy of Lolita with a beautiful cover, rare Bob Dylan books, and some sexy ones too: this great edition of Midnight Cowboy and Linda Lovelace’s biography were among the ones we sent out.”  

If you’ve been thinking about volunteering yourself, Burley offers some words of encouragement: “I think people are sometimes nervous about volunteering because they think it’s very strict – but in my experience they’ve been really flexible, and I really look forward to my shifts and working with such a lovely, supportive mix of people,” she explains. “The only thing I find hard is not taking piles of books home with me all the time. I want other people to discover and enjoy new things, too, though – so I try!”

Keep up with what’s arriving in store at @oxfambooksn1 (you can even DM to buy).