Oxfam, originally standing for the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, was founded in 1942 by a group of Quakers, academics, and social activists. They first met on October 5th, 1942 in the Old Library of the University Church to discuss means of providing food for the starving citizens of Greece during the Great Famine.
After the war Oxfam grew into an international organisation whose goal is alleviation of global poverty. Oxfam charity shops (over 1,200 worldwide) constitute a big part of the network. Many of them are specialist, second-hand bookshops, such as the two located in central Oxford: in Turl Street and in St Giles’. Both sell rare editions, modern and old, and the latter branch offers a selection of academic texts and books in foreign languages. It also happens to be on my way to work.
For my second adventure I decided to visit the Oxfam bookshop on the corner of St Giles’ and Pusey Street and to purchase — you called it! — a book. For £3 I got a 1946 edition of two novels by John Buchan: The Thirty-Nine Steps and The Power-House. The book is a handsome pocket-sized hardback in red, with gold details. It is in a very good condition, and I have little idea about its contents, apart from the blurb alluding to penny-dreadfuls and unexpected turns of fate.
Reader, perhaps, you are well-educated in the field of adventure novels of the early 20th century, and so the name of John Buchan is familiar to you. I have to confess my ignorance. I did try to look him up while in the shop, but my phone had no signal, and so I decided to purchase the book anyway — on the grounds of it going for only slightly more than a cup of coffee, looking nice, and being a book. I did think that The Thirty-Nine Steps rang a bell somehow, but otherwise the red-bound volume remained a mystery.
Further research (superficial googling) showed that I had made the right decision and that John Buchan used to be quite a big deal. He served as Governor General of Canada in 1935–1940, was a historian, and penned some 100 works, from award-winning biographies to war propaganda and — most famously — spy thrillers. (He also went to Oxford, was a Brasenose alumnus, and the president of the Oxford Union in 1898. It’s the circle of life / And it moves us all!)
The most famous of Buchan’s famous spy thrillers was The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915). It was a great hit with the soldiers in the trenches, and has been credited with the introduction of the ‘man-on-the-run’ trope (see the Bourne series, or this list of films). The Thirty-Nine Steps has been adapted for screen four times: from the 1935 version directed by Hitchcock to the 2008 feature made by BBC.
I am yet to read the novel, but I feel a distinct premonition that I might spend a while in the world created by John Buchan. What an adventure that will be.
Current album: Loyle Carner, Yesterday’s Gone
Current book: Sarvat Hasin, This Wide Night
Current TV series: Twin Peaks, Series 1 (1990)