Bookshop news and events

The Opposite of Loneliness – Saturday 25th October

‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ 

A Celebration of Marina Keegan’s Writing with Kevin and Tracy Keegan

Saturday 25th October, 7pm

October 25th, 2014 would have been Marina Keegan’s 25th birthday. Marina was killed in a car accident just days after graduating from Yale and writing her inspirational essay, The Opposite of Loneliness. Published posthumously, this collection of her work manages to be moving and uplifting, tinged with hope and sadness and the impossible-to-describe feeling of being 22 and on the brink of new beginnings. There’s a wide variety of pieces here, from witty non-fiction to cleverly observed stories, and Marina’s keen eye for the human condition makes each piece compulsively readable. It’s a book that will stay with you for a long time after you finish the final page.

This evening will celebrate Marina’s legacy and the innocence and beauty of this wonderful book. We will be joined by Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, and Suzanne Baboneau, managing director of Simon and Schuster UK, in conversation, and there will also be selected readings from The Opposite of Loneliness, giving people an opportunity to reflect, and to celebrate a life which was tragically cut short but which has now become an inspiration to many people. We will also be joined on the evening by Marina’s parents, Kevin and Tracy Keegan, who will be reading excerpts from Marina’s work, and Beth McNamara, Marina’s high school English teacher, will be reading the title essay, ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’.

This is a FREE event to attend. For a ticket please collect from our Customer Service Department at Blackwell’s Bookshop, Broad Street, Oxford. Alternatively, contact us on 01865 333 623 or for enquiries please email




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.”


A Very Short Introduction To…

Very Short Introductions “Speed-Dating” Evening

Thursday 30th October at 7pm
Blackwell’s Bookshop, 49-53 Broad Street, Oxford

Experience an evening unlike any other – sign up to participate in our Very Short Introductions Speed-Dating Evening!

The Very Short Introductions (VSIs) series is an extremely popular series of books from Oxford University Press in which expert authors make often challenging topics highly readable.

We are bringing eight of the VSI authors together to provide for you an intellectually nutritious smorgasbord of enlightenment! Want to know more about Modern China? The Ice Age? Consciousness? Free Speech? Then this is the night for you, as you spend approximately seven minutes with each of our eight authors in turn.

Our experts for the evening (and the topics they will cover) include Julian Baggini (Atheism), Rana Mitter (Modern China), Sue Blackmore (Consciousness), Peter Atkins (Physical Chemistry), Jonathan Slack (Stem Cells), Nigel Warburton (Free Speech), Jamie Woodward (The Ice Age) and Robert Eaglestone (Contemporary Fiction).

This is highly experimental! Anything could happen! This could all prove remarkably, mind-blowingly educational!

Tickets for this cerebral extravaganza cost only £3 and include a glass of wine. Tickets can be obtained from our Customer Services Department or by telephoning 01865 333623 or emailing
There are strictly EIGHTY PLACES ONLY for this event so please book early so as not to miss out.

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

The Scottish Referendum – A Rare Perspective

With just a fortnight to go until Scotland’s historic referendum, many people are preparing to answer the question ‘Should Scotland become an independent country?’ Let’s consider some historical context.

Exactly four hundred and ten years ago, the London publisher Edward Blount published an essay entitled ‘The Miraculous and Happie Union of England and Scotland, by how admirable meanes it is effected; how profitable to both Nations, and how free of any inconuenience either past, present, or to be discerned’. It is now a scarce book, with perhaps a dozen copies in major UK libraries and another handful outside the UK, according to the English Short Title Catalogue. We have a copy for sale, and you can see the listing on the Blackwell’s Rare Books website.

The author, Sir William Cornwallis the Younger (c.1579-1614), was knighted for his service in the Irish campaign of 1599 and then spent the early years of the 17th century writing essays, becoming one of the first practitioners of the form in English. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes him, he ‘vies, with Sir Francis Bacon, for the distinction of being the first familiar essayist in English and, with his friend John Donne, for that of being the first English paradoxical essayist. In each case it is impossible to tell who wrote first.’

In response to the Union of Crowns that accompanied the accession of James VI, King of Scots, to the English throne as James I in 1603, Cornwallis wrote this essay. His major theme is how natural and appropriate the union is, given the equal claim England and Scotland have for the affection and attention of their joint monarch. But his arguments may well still have relevance today, to both sides of the debate.

“Could independent Scotland’s economy survive? ‘They have a Countrey of their owne that yeeldeth so much plenty, as their plenty breedeth their want, for concerning the necessaries for mans life no country is better furnished: and for wealth, the happinesse of their latter government hath given such testimonies of encrease, as already they possesse enough both to defend themselves and to free their country from the imputation of sterility.”

What is Trident’s role?

“If they tell you of the poverty of Scotland, examine whether our wealth shall not come from the addition of their Kingdome, for at once we receive from them the stopping of our unnecesary warres.”

How will independent Scotland handle higher education?

“So shall the poore subiect escape paying fees upon fees, and sometimes double and treble briberies.”

Can we make comparisons to Europe?

‘Deviding a Kingdome into petty principalities prepareth it to bee swallowed by a more united power. So standeth Italy … but why seeke I forrain examples when wee have one of our owne so neare us? Wales is Englished … Successe hath followed, a warrant for the like occasion’

In conclusion, any campaigner must use reason and make sound arguments:

“So must the advised Polititian proceed, if he intendeth to give either a goodly or substantiall forme to his workemanship; for though man can inforce other creatures beyond their willes, yet the will of man, having reason to direct it which hath a freedome and eminencie in her nature, must therfore be wrought by perswasions, not enforcements, the onely means to bring her to obedience, and to yeelde to the directions of others.”

Interesting stuff, and if you want to back it up with some more recent analysis, why not visit our dedicated Politics page to see our selection of referendum-related titles?

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.

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).


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.

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