This month’s professional bookworm is Sarah Dennis, bookseller at, and owner of, Mostly Books in Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire. A very relaxed, community-focused independent, Mostly Books stocks both children’s and adult titles, along with a big range of gift wrap, cards, mugs and other non-book (but bookish) items. It has an enviable history of running and hosting fantastic events, both at the shop and at external venues – including author signings, quizzes, school book fairs and even pop-up bookshops. As for Sarah – she’s a relative newcomer to the book trade, and actually a mathematician by education. In a previous life, she worked as a Project Manager in a finance company, jet setting around the world from London to New York. But she had always considered bookshops to be her ‘happy place’ (so much so that she based her many travelling adventures around bookshop tourism) and often wondered what it would be like to own one… So, after changing her career, spending a little bit of time at Waterstones, and gaining some valuable experience at other independents, Sarah found herself at Mostly Books. From there, things moved very quickly indeed – after joining as a bookseller in January 2017, she legally took ownership at the end of May and was handed the keys to the shop in an official ceremony in June. After a career working in offices, she considers running her own business in such gorgeous surroundings a complete privilege, and since taking the helm, she’s refurbished the shop – including commissioning David Melling to paint a mural in the children’s room. Be sure to follow the shop on Facebook to keep up with Sarah’s energy!
Her three big books
‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini: A story of a complex friendship between two Afghan boys (Amir and Hassan) and the event that shatters both their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption. The Kite runner is an intricate tale about friendship and power imbalance which gives a great insight into the workings of a country that is a foreign entity to most people.
‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak: This is the story of a young girl called Liesel living in a small town outside Munich during the Second World War. The story is narrated by Death, who follows Liesel as she adapts to life with her foster parents. Liesel steals books, and this book follows her story as the war progresses and impacts her life. It’s a small tale, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter and quite a lot of thievery.
‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold: The story of a teenage girl called Susie who, after being raped and murdered, watches from her heaven as her family and friends struggle to move on with their lives while she comes to terms with her own death. You are introduced to Susie after she has died, and she quickly takes the reader through what has happened to her. An astonishing novel about life and death, memory and forgetting, and finding light in the darkest places.
Her two contemporary titles
‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ by Sarah Vaughan: A fabulous dual-time-frame thriller which follows the story of a high profile married man who is on trial for rape and the impact that this trial has on his family. The story switches between modern day and flashbacks to his time spent at Oxford University – rowing, socialising and building the network that is used as a stepping stone into adult life. A multi-character cast that builds the story to an epic climax. Not to be missed.
‘This Is Going To Hurt’ by Adam Kay: The true diaries of a junior doctor as he navigates his first few years in the world of medicine. Written in a sleep deprived haze, Adam Kay doesn’t hold back in his brilliant observations of life as a doctor. Brilliantly written with astute observations and enough stories to make you shudder as you walk into a hospital. Hilarious, honestly written, astute and, at times, gut-wrenchingly sad. This is going to hurt is not to be missed.
The one on her ‘to read’ list
‘Educated’ by Tara Westover: The true story of a girl who was raised by nay-sayers in mid-America. Tara grew up in the hills of an Idaho mountain, with a father who spent his time preparing for the end of the world, a mother who worked as an unqualified midwife to the women of the community, and a brace of brothers and sisters. Tara’s birth wasn’t registered until she was 9 years old, and she had no formal education until she was 17. Despite this, Tara has earned a PhD in Intellectual History from Cambridge University. This book tells the story of her self-invention and determination to access knowledge.