Author: euanhirst

I am the Academic Manager of Blackwell's world famous bookshop on Broad Street in Oxford. I contribute frequently to our shop blog, Twitter and Facebook pages. Books are my life...

‘The Sense of Style': Steven Pinker, appearing at the Sheldonian Theatre on Tuesday 23rd September at 7pm

One of the most scintillating author events with which I have ever been involved was when we played host to Steven Pinker at the Sheldonian Theatre. On that occasion, he spoke about his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, which still rates for me personally as the greatest work of non-fiction I have ever read. In that book, Steven Pinker suggests that humanity is becoming less rather than more violent. That argument is then supported by an astonishing 500 pages of history, anthropology and sociology and what is more, those 500 pages do not forget to be, in parts, appealingly anecdotal and yes, even amusing.

senseofstyle4offPinker’s new book, ‘The Sense of Style’, is a scientific look at crafting graceful and articulate prose. Determined not to bemoan the degradation of modern standards, and even more determined to express how important it is to add beauty to the world, what Steven Pinker is doing here is writing a style manual of an elevated kind, one which is thoughtful and inspiring and which anatomises language with a steady precision. As you would expect, Steven Pinker gives examples along the way, citing snippets of what he considers to be both good and bad writing. Pinker’s own writing is undeniably elegant, which of course helps to reinforce the entire raft of arguments he expounds through each chapter.

Explaining how the human mind works and relates to language is of course key to a good deal of this – and we can be in the hands of no more qualified an expert that Professor Pinker in that regard. I could expand on this point, but that would necessitate turning a pithy blog piece into a much more substantial review, so I will leave you to read his book instead!

Some of his contentions and observations bring to mind, tangentially, something that the novelist David Mitchell was saying just this week when asked about his writing style – he talked about the look of the words on the page and the fact that the eye is like the blind person’s finger reading braille on the page (he talked about how ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’ mean the same thing, but we instinctively know when to use one and when to use the other. He also talked about ‘perhaps’ being spikier-looking on the page, whereas ‘maybe’ is smoother).

I am looking forward a very great deal to hearing Steven Pinker speak and to meet the great man once again, and if you haven’t obtained your tickets already, I exhort you to come along to what is bound to be a mind-expanding and life-improving event – and quite probably a little mischievous as well.

Zool Verjee, 12th September 2014
Steven Pinker appears at the Sheldonian Theatre on Tuesday 23rd September at 7pm, tickets cost £6 and are available by calling 01865 333623 or emailing events.oxford@blackwell.co.uk (if you wish to sign up to our events mailing list simply request this in the email)

Our full events schedule, including the likes of Marilynne Roninson, Deborah Levy and Michael Morpurgo can be found here

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

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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.

Gypsy folk tales

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).

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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

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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

 

Congratulations

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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.

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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

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From August 8th – 10th the World Humanist Congress will take place in Oxford. Held every three years the theme of the meeting this year is freedom of thought and expression and the line up of speakers is stellar.

Tickets sold out almost immediately but we are very pleased to be putting on a series of free 20 minute talks in the bookshop over the three days.

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We have put together a page for books by the speakers and other relevant titles

You can keep up to date by following #WHC2014 on Twitter or their Facebook page