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 books that you are most likely to see under your tree this year…

As we tick off the first week of December we start to get a good feel for which books are going to be at the top of our bestseller lists come Christmas. If you are looking for inspiration for that ‘hard to buy for’ relative this might give you some ideas…

For details of these books and for plenty more recommendations from our booksellers visit our shop website, and don’t forget, you can always chat to us on Twitter!

Matchbook Books!

It seems that there is a new genre in town – the ‘matchbook’. Two examples have caught our eye, firstly a new collection of 30 short ‘entertainments’ by Michael Frayn and the second issue of Matchbook Stories from Cypriot indie publisher Books Ex Machina. Both are charming ‘amuse bouche’ that delight with their wit and style, both in content and design.

Perfect as presents – especially to yourself! Both are now available in the shop priced £12.99.

Harry Leslie Smith and Owen Jones in conversation with Melissa Benn

There is no doubt that one of the surprise personalities of the year has been Harry Leslie Smith, 91 year old survivor of the Great Depression and veteran of the Second World War. Whatever your politics, his memoir, Harry’s Last Stand, is an incredibly affecting book. On Tuesday October 28th you have the chance to see Harry in person.

Harry will share the stage at The Sheldonian Theatre with Owen Jones, political commentator and author of the bestselling ‘Chavs‘ and, now, ‘The Establishment‘. The discussion will be moderated by Melissa Benn.

Tickets cost £5 and can be obtained by visiting our Customer Service Department at Blackwell’s Bookshop, Broad Street, Oxford or by tel: 01865 333623 email:

Stand on the Shoulders of Giants – FREE talks from leading academics

For the start of term we are, once again, excited and honoured to be able to present a series of talks from some world-class academics. Each talk is free to attend, seats are limited so please arrive early to ensure a place – talks begin at 3pm each day.

Monday 13th October, 3pm
Will Hutton Political Economist and Principal of Hertford College, Oxford
“What Does Studying Economics Teach Us?”

Tuesday 14th October, 3pm
Adam Roberts, Senior Research Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford
“Tackling Political Violence in Politics and International Relations”

Wednesday 15th October, 3pm
Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies, University of Oxford and Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford
“What Does Studying History Tell Us?”

Thursday 16th October, 3pm
Danny Dorling, Halford MackinderProfessor of Geography, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford
“What Does Studying Inequality Teach Us?”

Friday 17th October, 3pm
Marianne Talbot, Director of Studies in Philosophy at the University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education
“What Does Studying Philosophy Teach Us?”  

Keep up to date with all our author events on our shop page

Celebrate Bookshops! We’re Having a Bookshop Party for ‘Books Are My Bag’


Books Are My Bag – the national celebration day for bookshops across the country is on Saturday 11th October. Our wonderful Hannah is pulling our efforts together for the day…

“When I was young the best thing about Christmas and Birthdays meant the traditional trip to a bookshop with money my loved ones had gifted to me. I grew up in a town where a small Mackenzie’s was the closet to a bookshop we had (now a W H Smiths), the joys of a commuter town with direct links to London, so it not only meant a trip to a big bookshop full of stories I was itching to own but a trip to the neighbouring big town a train journey away, making the journey even more exciting.

My poor mum used to have to drag me away after hours (literally) of being in the bookshop, I was that child, the one who wanted give every book a loving home on my bookcase.

Now years later I still feel that same excitement of visiting a stunning bookshop for the first time. Seeing how they display their books and create the perfect browsing experience, each one unique and special in their own perfect way. To be able to physically pick up a book, run your fingers across the spines of books on shelves and get a feel for what could turn out to be the next best book you’ve ever read. Oh and lets not forget the talented booksellers who can recommend books till tomorrow and help you when need to find exactly what you were after or perhaps didn’t realise you were even after. I’m proud to say I work and have worked with many of these bookseller stars.

Bookshops are happy places, which should all year round be celebrated but sometimes you need a reason to really get up from your computers, forget online shopping and rekindle this experience of utter joy. Or maybe you visit us or another bookshop every week or month and know exactly what I’m talking about. (To you i thank and salute you). Therefore the Bookseller’s Association created Books Are My Bag last year, a campaign to show support to bookshops all across the UK, chains and independent alike. Groovy bags were created and handed out for free to bookshop visitors and bookshop parties appeared everywhere. We had so much fun that we decided to put together another day of fun events this year to celebrate Book Are My Bag 2014, all details are listed below. Please come by on the day it would be lovely to see you!”

Even Myrtle, our shop dinosaur got in on the Books Are My Bag fever last year

Even Myrtle, our shop dinosaur got in on the Books Are My Bag fever last year

On Saturday 11th October pick up your 2014 bag and take part in our book themed events and activities. In the Norrington Room at 1pm we will be hosting our “Beat the Bookseller Quiz” and on the ground floor we will be randomly surprising our favourite customers with the gift of a book. In the children’s department we will be joined by award winning authors, who will be telling us their favourite bookshop memories at 2pm, then jumping behind the till as honorary booksellers for the afternoon, as well as book craft activities and a guess the book quiz. Other activities taking place in the bookshop include:

–  Blackwell’s Book Bake Off,  members of staff will be putting the book to the test and championing their favourite bake for you to try and vote for your favourite.

–  Hunt the vouchers, we will be hiding some £1 vouchers throughout the shop for you to find! Throughout the day we will be giving you clues on our social media pages.

–  Bookseller Tours, at 10am and 4pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday we will be offering you the chance to be shown round the shop by one of our magnificent booksellers, learning about the history, the day to day role of being a bookseller and a chance to see our special Gaffers Office. It is free to attend but places are limited and need to be booked in advance. Please visit our Customer Services department to book your place or email

“At the end of the day, a bookshop is more than a retail shop. It’s a cultural space, a place where you can step back from your busy life in a comfy chair but most importantly it’s a community space. At the end of the day we are YOUR bookshop, displaying books we feel you want to see. Bookshops do more than sell you a book we also create memories and educate. I work in events, which is a vibrant and exciting place to be. We host up to 5 events a week every week on a range of subjects and fascinating authors. Check out our website for a sample of what we have coming up.

We must unite together and not forget about our local bookshops. If we do, that exerience I spoke about at the beginning, that was the start of my lifetime of reading, will not be there for future generations. The thought of children not visiting bookshops is honestly as far as I am concerned, heartbreaking. Help keep bookshops thriving by visiting on Saturday 11th October to show your support. For more information about the campaign, visit the official Books Are My Bag website.”


October Events at Blackwell’s

Attenborough panorama high res

Queues round the Norrington Room when David Attenborough came to sign. Click on the photo to enlarge

James is our Events manager. He has been very busy:

We’re slowly creeping into our busiest and most exciting period in our events programme. October sees us welcoming in for talks, among many others, Peter F. Hamilton, Deborah Levy and Juliet Barker…in fact, we pretty much have some on everything single weekday throughout the month!

Marina-Keegan-portrait-009One special inclusion is a celebration of Marina Keegan’s book, ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ on Saturday 25th October, the day that would have been Marina’s 25th birthday if she hadn’t been tragically killed in an accident, not long after writing her wonderful essay. Joining us for this special evening will be Jason Cowley, editor of The New Statesman and Suzanne Baboneu, managing director of Simon & Schuster. Marina’s parents will be flying over from the States and will read from the book. I can promise a very moving and yet incredibly uplifting talk.

October also sees the 3rd session in our ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ talks, from Monday 13th to Friday 17th at 3pm each day in the Norrington Room. See our talks from last October on our Youtube channel. These are FREE 20 minute talks  by leading academics. for this series we have Professor Danny Dorling, Will Hutton and Marianne Talbot. Keep your eyes on our events page for the full listing!

bambREADYBooks are my Bag, the national celebration of bookshops, takes place on Saturday 11th but for us begins with  a talk in the Norrington Room by legendary Science Fiction author Peter F. Hamilton for his new book ‘The Abyss Beyond Dreams’on Friday 10th. For the actual day we are flinging our doors wide open to visitors and authors alike! Confirmed honorary booksellers for the day include Robin Stevens, Ali Shaw, Susie Day and Sally Nichols. The day will be a celebration of books, reading and of course bookshops. There will be cake!

1472116666Following on from this we have a panel discussion on the 16th to ponder on the bookselling world in the year 2114, and how and if it will have drastically changed for better or worse. Our panel includes author of ‘The Bookshop Book’, Jen Campbell; founder of Oneworld Publications,Juliet Mabey;  author of the bestselling ‘Etymologicon’, Mark Forsyth; Manager of our famous Norrington Room Ulric Van Den Boegarde; Publisher and Author of ‘Turning the Page’, Angus Phillips; the author of ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ Andy Miller and ex-bookseller Monty Kimball-Evans.

And that’s just the beginning. To see what other literary delights we have in store for you, including Marilynne Robinson and a unique presentation of War Horse with Michael Morpurgo, please visit our Oxford author events page  or pick up a leaflet when you next visit us. You can sign up to our mailing list by emailing We’d love you see at one or more of our events!

‘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 (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