The Glasgow School of Art Fire – Blackwell’s Rare Books Makes a Donation


This from Derek Walker, Manager of Blackwell’s Rare and Antiquarian dept

In May this year the Glasgow School of Art suffered a terrible tragedy when an accidental fire threatened the entirety of their famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh building. The fire services made a heroic effort and saved the majority of the building and its contents, but sadly the Mackintosh Library, with its splendid interior and important contents, was lost.

Like many others, we followed the shocking developments as they happened, through Twitter and news stories. Fire is the very first enemy listed in William Blades’ classic treatise on ‘The Enemies of Books’ and just the thought of a burning library must send shivers down the spine of any bibliophile.

mackintoshfireThe idea of replacing a library like this from scratch seemed impossibly daunting, but, like the firefighters, the librarians there have been working heroically and were soon able to issue a list of donations sought to start the rebuilding of the collection. The least we could do was read and publicise their wants list in case there was any way we might be able to help.

As the library’s statement said, they were first seeking ‘to replace those volumes that complemented our Archives and Collections, including the many treatises and illustrated books written, designed and made by our past Directors, tutors, and alumni’. The obvious possibility for us was Agnes Miller Parker (1895-1980), a former student and briefly on the staff of the GSA, who went on to become one of the most remarkable British wood engravers of the 20th century. The books she illustrated for the Gregynog Press and the Limited Editions Club are wonderful pieces of book art that we try to have in stock whenever we can.

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Gregynog Press XXI Welsh Gypsy Folk Tales

One of Miller Parker's engravings

One of Miller Parker’s engravings










Luckily, it just so happened that we had a copy of the Gregynog Press XXI Welsh Gypsy Folk Tales of 1933 , which we were in a position to donate immediately. After contacting Duncan Chappell at the GSA to offer it, we arranged for the book to be sent up to Blackwell’s in Edinburgh before being hand-delivered over to Glasgow. Last week our colleague Jane Douglas, Blackwell’s field sales manager for Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the North East of England, handed the book over to Duncan’s colleagues, Delphine Dallison and David Buri (thanks also to Darrell, our shop manager in Edinburgh, for assissting the delivery).


One book is just a drop in the bucket, though, and much work remains to be done. The wants list is still online and the librarians at the GSA will be updating it weekly, so it’s easy to tell what’s still needed. The GSA Library website has the list in PDF format , along with a link to donate to the fund to rebuild the library interior. Please share both widely, and help if you can.

Keep in touch with developments at the Glasgow School of Art Library on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo, and Pinterest

Blenheim Palace Literary Festival September 25-28

blenheim_palace_north_face__970The literary festival at Blenheim Palace is, once again, upon us. From Thursday 25th September through to Sunday 28th a host of interesting writers and public figures will illuminate, entertain and provoke your thoughts.

Visit the Festival website for full information and to buy tickets and visit our Festival page to buy the books before you go

Books Are My Bag II – a date for your diary


Last year was the inaugural ‘Books Are My Bag’ campaign – a day organised by The Booksellers Association for everyone to have the chance to celebrate bookshops. It was wildly successful with thousands upon thousands of book lovers making a trip to their local bookshop up and down the country. The Saatchi-designed orange bag flooded the streets and sales across the country rose by 18% on the Saturday launch day

It certainly made an impression on Richard Ovenden, Bodley Librarian, with one of my favourite ever tweets about the shop

Richard Ovenden BAMB tweet

So, book lovers, let’s do it all again!

On Saturday October 11th BAMB II is happening.

Fiendish plans are underway to make sure that we play our fullest part here in the shop. The plan is to put on an amazing carnival of bookish loveliness that puts a smile on your face and a book in your bag.

Follow Books Are My Bag on Twitter or their website to keep abreast of news and developments




Great news if you got the grades you required and you are off to Uni – exciting times ahead! If you didn’t get the grades you required don’t panic – there is sensible advice here. Good things can still happen.

We’ve been a University bookseller for over 135 years so we know a thing or two about the student experience. Our ‘student essentials’ page is a great place to start for all your bookish needs, from reading lists to study skills, wise words for young minds to great value textbooks.


Philip Pullman on the power of the book

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In addition to all the fantastic free short talks right here in Blackwell’s during the World Humanist Congress, I was also lucky enough to attend Philip Pullman’s talk at the Sheldonian, mysteriously entitled ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’. Pullman is one of Oxford’s most well-known authors, and it was a real pleasure to hear him speak about the life and responsibilities of writers – the metaphor of the cuckoo’s nest was perfect for discussing the way one’s writing can take over one’s life.

One particular point that Pullman explored was the difference between the relationship of book and author, and that of book and reader.

“Writing is not democracy; writing is tyranny. But reading is democracy.”

What he means by this is that the author may have total control over a book while it is being written, but that the moment it begins to be read, he ceases to have control over how it is read. The reader is free to derive whatever they wish from any book – “when you open a book, it is secret, private” and the relationship is “precious, individual”. This freedom of interpretation fitted in perfectly with the theme of the World Humanist Congress, “Freedom of Thought and Expression”, and was extremely thought-provoking. Certainly I know that the books I’ve fallen most in love with have been the ones I’ve discovered by myself, and not the ones that school teachers demanded I interpret.

Pullman was insistent about the power of literature and the arts to influence children and young people, and lamented that there is little chance for children to discover literature at their own pace. Literature, he argues, shows us what it is to be human, and can be used to equip a reader with an understanding, a model, of how to live – however, this is most powerful if the discovery is organic, and something read as a child suddenly bursts into flower years later, meaning one more facet of humanity makes sense. But, he says, if there is someone watching over the reader’s shoulder, telling them what to think of it, then this magic bond is lost. Pullman is fond of using the words ‘magic’, ‘enchantment’, ‘spell’ – and I think anyone who loves to read will understand why!

As a reader (and I’m sure most of you are), I know that much of my childhood reading, and even the reading I do today, worked to subtly influence how I see the world, and who I am. Watching Anne Shirley grow up through the Anne of Green Gables books gave me a model I still subconsciously aim for; Hermione Granger was the perfect comfort to a frizzy-haired, bookish schoolgirl. So to hear Pullman acknowledge the special bond between reader and book, reader and character, to be as strong if not stronger than the relationship between writers and their own works, was extremely powerful.

Would you agree? Is there something secret between the reader and what they read? Which books and characters have influenced how you see the world?

If this has inspired you to read something by Philip Pullman, then why not pop into the shop, or check out our online store here?

New Murakami, Early Opening, Signed Copy to be won!

murakami coverWe are booksellers so we love Haruki Murakami (it seems to be a law of bookselling). Ever since this new novel was published in Japan 18 months agao to scenes reminiscent of The Beatles our bookish senses have been tingling with anticipation.

The wait is virtually over. Tomorrow, Tuesday August 11th, we open the shop at 7.30am to let you (us, really) get your copy early. But wait. Thanks to the largesse of the lovely people at Random House you can have the chance to win a signed 1st edition. All you have to do is visit the shop between 7.30am and 9.00am to be entered into the draw.

If I was you I would heed the timeless advice of Matt Bianco!

See you in the morning Murakami-lovers!


World Humanist Congress 2014 Highlights

What a weekend! With over 1000 delegates from all over the world descending on Oxford for the 2014 World Humanist Congress, and a series of ten world-famous humanists giving free talks in the Norrington Room, the bookshop was absolutely buzzing.

The range of subjects discussed was huge, from religion to the nature of the universe, from morality to medicine. Some serious debate was had during Richard Dawkins’ Q&A session, while Jim Al-Khalili had the whole room chuckling with the clever analogies he used to explain paradoxes. Another highlight was Simon Singh playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ backwards to prove that the human mind can be tricked into seeing or hearing something that it expects!

The atmosphere all weekend was fantastic, and we’re thrilled to have seen so many of you getting involved asking questions or just taking in the talks. The whole Norrington Room came alive with eager audiences:

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Simon Singh explores alternative medicine.

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Jim Al-Khalili reads from ‘Paradox’.

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Kenan Malik running through the history of morality.

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A huge crowd waiting for Richard Dawkins’ talk.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Blackwell’s event without a great selection of books, and we created individual displays for each speaker’s titles:

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Each speaker very kindly spent some time signing books – perhaps one of the most exciting was this first edition of Richard Dawkins’ ‘The Selfish Gene':

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Steve Smith with his newly signed first edition.


Nick Cohen signing ‘You Can’t Read This Book’.

But don’t worry if you missed out! Our World Humanist Congress section in the Norrington Room is sticking around for two weeks, so you can still pick up some great titles by these and other authors from the Congress.

(Picture from @humanism2014 Twitter)

Were you here for any of the talks? What was your highlight of the weekend? Don’t forget, you can tweet us any pictures or comments at @blackwelloxford!