Just across the road from Cambridge’s biggest college Trinity, sits the city’s biggest bookshop, Heffers. As you might imagine, given its size, stock-selection is one of the store’s strengths. Its shelves seem to stretch back ad finatum and house an impressive variety of wares. Fiction and non-fiction, stationery and even board games are all in liberal supply. Heffers is also particularly good for crime fiction, boasting one of the most expansive sections in all Cambridge, so if you’re a fan of Chandler, Capote and Christie, Trinity Street should be firmly on your radar. But size is a double-edged attribute and one of the spill-overs is that store feels a little impersonal. The interior is slightly too squeaky teak and polished plastic for my taste and the staff that I saw looked tired and disinterested, with the sole exception of a pushily over-enthusiastic adviser who was lurking around the education section and clung to my person like a bobby escorting a criminal. Heffers is also – sacrilegiously for a student – quite pricy. Whilst the shop rarely strays much above the RRP line, £8-£10 for some light fiction is a stretch for a university budget. Granted, the shop is generous with its 3 for 2 deals and such like, but if you’ve not got that fifteen quid or so to spare in the first place, you’ll be leaving the store empty handed either way.
Cambridge University Press Bookshop
A little further down the same street as Heffer’s, just a dozen yards or so away from Caius College, is the University Press Bookshop. You’ve probably seen the University Press logo glaring back at you from the cover of a tear-saturated tome during essay crisis, but put away all your prejudices, because the University bookshop is really pretty great. Well, great if you’re looking for a textbook and have a wallet full of wonga to blow. The bookshop specialises in academic literature published by Cambridge – if you’re after Dan Brown go elsewhere – and is a great place to go and gen up on the publication lives of your supervisors; perfect if you need to try and smoosh a few extra marks in a weekly essay. The store is usually a lot sleepier than somewhere like Heffer’s in terms of the atmosphere. It’s rarely ever crowded and the shop assistants are more than happy to let you browse until you start wearing the covers out without harrying you to make a purchase. The one real downside is that because of the steep prices, browsing is probably all you’ll be able to afford to be doing. Even with the 10% discount given to university students, you should expect to be shelling out minimum 20 or so quid for a book.
David’s Bookshop is a little harder to find than the other shops on this list, but don’t let that put you off a visit. It’s tucked away cosily in that little side avenue which runs the other side of the small church by Corpus Playroom. As you might expect from the name and location, David’s is a much more intimate little establishment than either Heffers or the University Press shop. Reams of antiquated spines, dusty armchairs and warming brass lamps make up the decor and its atmosphere is apt to remind you of your college library. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing probably depends how you’re doing in your degree, but I appreciated the rustic interior (complete with avuncular bald men in tweed jackets) immensely and really recommend a visit for its aesthetic merits alone. But David’s isn’t just pretty to look at, they also do great deals on (mostly) second hand books. 400 odd page classics can be picked up at 5 for £10 and there are plenty of items to be snatched individually around the £2 mark meaning that even the most hard-up student can leave the store with a book.
Charity shops are always a bit hit and miss when it comes to books, and Oxfam is no exception. The store on Sidney Street has a bigger book section than most though and usually has a surprisingly good volume of old academic textbooks, important literary primary texts and all sorts of other things useful to the Cambridge student (especially one reading English). Most of Shakespeare’s plays are usually floating about on the shelves and can be picked up for a couple of quid, and the store is often just as well stocked with critical guides at a similarly knockdown price. Oxfam quite obviously can’t compete with the range of the University Press shop or David’s (which has a really impressive amount of stuff for a small private store) but the stuff it does have is inevitably very affordable and gives you the added bonus of knowing that you’re doing your bit to alleviate world poverty. The venerable old ladies who’re often behind the till are also a fun pair, always smiling and game for a friendly mid-purchase chatter. Oxfam’s well worth a visit for them alone.