“How Will I Afford all these Books!”


Emily guides you around York’s book shops in preparation for the first term.

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Image by Ryan Hyde

By Emily Warner

For most freshers (or at least for arts students such as myself), the beginning of university brings with it a leaning tower of books, textbooks and articles which feels taller than the famous tower in Italy. This also comes with the unwelcome news that you have to buy them all! And by the time you’ve paid for your £3.20 clothes wash, an unspecified number of shots in Flares, and an unhealthy amount of coffee, factoring twenty-five books into your budget is very difficult. So difficult in fact, that the ‘buy 10 books and get one free’ deal in Waterstones just doesn’t quite cut it (even if it’s fun to collect the stamps).

Luckily for you, you chose to come to the University of York which boasts an impressive number of bookshops, most of which are independent and run by friendly, book-mad people. This is why I’m giving you a crash course o York’s book scene - no need to thank me but first year English students, I just saved your lives.

Minster Gate Bookshop

I will begin with my personal favourite, the Minster Gate Bookshop. You can find this shop in front of York Minster, next to Hebden’s Tea shop (also worth a visit), and can spend hours browsing their collection of second-hand and antiquarian books, on every topic imaginable. Although the shop facade is unassuming, don’t be fooled; this is a Georgian-town house (aka. the tardis of York) that has five floors brimming with books. Not only is the range extensive, but it is also extremely affordable. I always find what I need here for a reasonable price (and sometimes books I don’t need but want to admire on my shelf) so it is my number one recommendation. You can also buy prints or grab yourself the compulsory and highly fashionable humanities student accessory: the Minster Gate Bookshop tote bag, whilst still being able to afford that cocktail that’s been calling to you all day.

Fossgate Books

This one must have been my most frequented bookshop during the first year, mainly because of its location. As the name suggests, it is on Fossgate and so you will probably pass the shop every time you walk from campus into the city (which is a lot if you like buying coffee and window shopping as much as me). This means, every time you walk into town you have to pass a window full of books and let's be honest, no book lover could resist the temptation to go in. Inside there are books stacked against every surface, some with beautiful hardback covers and vintage pages as if they have come straight out of Hogwarts; others haphazardly piled on the floor for you to rummage through - a kind of literary lucky dip. I have even found books that are enhanced by sketches, have letters folded between the pages and include annotations (who knows, it might inspire your next essay). The owner of this shop is lovely too and I never leave without an offer of help or a recommendation from him.

Oxfam Bookshop Micklegate

Where are my charity-shoppers? This one’s for you. There are two Oxfam bookshops in York and this is the bigger of the two. It stocks a huge collection of second-hand fiction and non-fiction which will have you in there for hours. There are also comics, children’s books, music and CDs if you’re looking for something different, and by shopping here, you’re supporting an amazing cause. The prices are astonishingly low, so you’re helping the charity and yourself at the same time - definitely worth the visit. The other Oxfam shop, if you are feeling lucrative enough to visit two, is on Low Petergate and is smaller but more central.

The Grimoire Bookshop

A grimoire is defined as ‘a book of magic spells and invocations’ which is a fitting name for this bookshop, found on High Petergate. Walking in feels less like entering a shop and more like entering the house of someone with a serious book-hoarding problem. Every corner is stuffed with books, strange decor and unique objects, all of which contribute to the magical feel of the shop and leave you feeling unable to decide where to look first.  It’s kind of like my dream house (minus the part where other people can walk in and buy the books). If you like unusual or speciality novels, then this is definitely the place for you. They also have a collection of fiction and classics too making it hard to leave with just one title in hand. A trip to The Grimoire Bookshop is essential, even if it’s just for the experience, so you can spend an hour pretending to be the main character in a fantasy novel.

Other Noteworthy Bookshops

Alas, I could write about bookshops all day but there are more shops than my word count allows so I shall finish with a few honourable mentions plus a great Freshers Week recommendation (if, like me, you want to be broke but have a beautiful bookshelf). If you happen to stroll past The Little Apple Bookshop, pop your head in for a look; you can’t miss its bright colours and quaint selection of gifts. Another one which is hard to miss is The Portal Bookshop due to its extensive range of pride flags. This bookshop specialises in LGBTQIA books and friendly customer service and walking in never fails to make me smile. Last but not least is Waterstones (starts salivating) which is a pricier option but oh so enticing. Be careful walking in without a budget or you may find yourself eating cake in their cafe beside a mile high stack of new books.

I’ll end by drawing your attention to one of the activities offered during Freshers Week, by various societies, which is a book crawl. I attended the one run by LitSoc and had the opportunity to explore some of these shops, discover the city and meet people who shared my interests (namely, admiring books). If this is something that sounds like fun to you, I’d definitely recommend going. Otherwise, enjoy exploring!