Oh, Oxford World’s Classics how we love you. Thanks to their generous sponsorship we will be hosting three evening performances by The Bookshop Band at the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival. On Sunday 23rd March, Monday 24th March and Tuesday 25th March they will be playing FREE gigs in our Marquee from 6.30pm – 8.00pm. Leading up to these performances we will be canvassing the opinion of Festival goers as to which Oxford World’s Classic they would like the band to turn into song! So if you have a penchant for Moby Dick, a passion for The Communist Manifesto or a preference for Paradise Lost be sure to register your vote in the Marquee.
In this latest book by modern influential philosopher, Roman Krznaric argues that empathetic feeling is at the heart of who we are.
He sets out the six life-enhancing habits of highly empathetic people, whose skills enable them to connect with others in extraordinary ways.
Krznaric contends that, as we move on from an age of introspection, empathy will be key to fundamental social change.
Tickets cost £3 and are available from our Customer Service desk in the shop; by telephoning 01865 333623; by emailing email@example.com
***NEW FREE EVENT ADDED – WEDNESDAY 26TH MARCH AT 7PM: SINGER-SONGWRITER JESS HALL WILL BE PERFORMING SONGS FROM HER DEBUT ALBUM ‘BOOKSHELVES’***
We are thrilled to be bringing back the Festival Marquee! In partnership with Nook tablets and ereaders the marquee will be a vibrant hub for the festival. The Blackwell’s Marquee is open to all; bring your friends and family along to enjoy the atmosphere, the numerous free events and activities and spot a famous author or two. It will be open every day of the festival from 9 in the morning until 8 at night with two late night openings until 10pm on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th. See below for details on the UK launch of Nook Press – an exciting new self-publishing platform
At a new location in the Clarendon Quad, adjacent to the Sheldonian Theatre not only will you find our Festival Bookshop but a wonderful restaurant will be provided by Jacobs & Field – if you have visited their Headington deli your tastebuds will already be salivating. Quality coffee will be on hand to keep your energy levels high.
Complementing our handpicked selection of books will be a mouthwatering selection of literary gifts. Litographs creates art from the books you’ve read and loved. Be sure to pop by to their stall and fall in love…
There will be a dedicated activity area where we will host the always popular free VSI Soap Box talks – this year you can learn about a cornucopia of subjects from Ancient Greece to The Ice Age.
A new venture, similar in style to the Soap Boxes, will be our booksellers talking about the book that they most love. Expect some passion!
The one man force of learning, Christopher Lloyd, will be back to talk us through his series of Wallbooks, including the new Wallbook on Shakespeare. Illuminating for children and parents alike. Christopher will be ensconced in the Marquee from Thursday 27th through until the last day, Sunday 30th.
Three evening gigs from The Bookshop Band, nook demonstrations, a special one-off Stories Aloud (we can now confirm that the authors appearing as part of Stories Aloud are Phil Klay and Emma Jane Unsworth) and Robert Lipscombe, author of the incredible newspaper-novel The English Project will add dash, flavour and enjoyment to the evenings.
Join Blackwell’s very own Jackie at 11am on the first weekend for storytelling sessions for younger children.
At 1.15pm on Saturday 22nd we welcome Danyah Miller brought to the Marquee by the frabjous Story Museum (who, as an aside, launch on April 5th with what looks to be an amazing exhibition). Danyah Miller is a storyteller, workshop leader, writer, theatre producer and mum. She shares stories in nurseries, schools, theatres and festivals nationally. She is also a visiting teacher at The International School of Storytelling in East Sussex.
Danyah is currently performing in “I Believe in Unicorns” by Michael Morpurgo – which she brings to the Story Museum on 27th & 28th May “Breathtakingly beautiful and utterly charming… a must see at this year’s fringe” -
Primary Times Edinburgh
For 3 years Danyah was a the regular storyteller on BBC Three Counties Radio. Her first book ‘Kika’s Birthday” was published in December 2012
Children’s author Conrad Mason will be talking about his exciting adventure series Tales of Fayt on Monday 24th at 11am
Conrad grew up in Oxfordshire and studied Classics at Cambridge. His first novel for children, The Demon’s Watch, was published in 2012 with David Fickling books and nominated for a slew of prizes. The Demon’s Watch is a fast-paced fantasy adventure for children 9 to 11, featuring half-goblin boy Joseph Grubb. More information on Conrad can be found on his website
At 11am on Wednesday 26th we invite you to go on an adventure with Charlie Small! Travel to the Mummy’s Tomb, wrestle crocodiles and visit the city of gorillas. Not for the faint-hearted!
Chrissie’s Owls are a small group of people committed to the care and conservation of Owls. Come and meet some of these gorgeous birds and hear about the work of this amazing organisation on Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd from 2pm
Guy Watson and Sophie Grigson
Jacobs and Field bring you Guy Watson and Sophie Grigson. Guy Watson is the man behind Riverford Farm, his ethos being to put fresh, flavoursome, seasonal food back onto people’s plates. Sophie Grigson has written over 20 cookery books and appeared in numerous television programmes, and she is a keen supporter of organic produce and local food suppliers. Join Guy and Sophie on Saturday 22nd at 6pm
Experts from Nook will be on hand to demonstrate not only their award winning tablets and ereaders but also how prospective authors can conquer the world of self publishing. Special demonstrations about the newly launched self-publishing platform Nook Press, including talks on “Introduction to Self-Publishing with Nook,” which is billed as “a free, fun and informative interactive session for authors” Presentations take place on Monday 24th at 3pm and Wednesday 26th at 3pm & 6.30pm
Author Signings by some Sheldonian authors
We are delighted to be hosting the following author signings here in the marquee – these signings follow their talks taking place at the Sheldonian Theatre. You are very welcome to join the signing queue even if you have not attended the event
Thursday 27th March at 3pm – Jeremy Paxman
Saturday 29th March at 1.15pm – AC Grayling
Saturday 29th March at 3pm – Malorie Blackman
Sunday 30th March at 1.15pm – Michael Morpurgo
Robert Lipscombe is the author of the incredible newspaper-novel ‘The English Project’ – a courageous and attention-grabbing political novel about the state of the nation and our moral universe. Expect a mischievous and provocative evening, as the author explains both what lies beneath the novel and why he chose to publish it in this original format. Thursday 27th March at 6.30pm
How to Start an Empathy Revolution – Roman Krznaric
Drawing on his new book, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution, cultural thinker and School of Life faculty member Roman Krznaric makes the case that empathy is a radical tool for social change. Should we be using babies to teach empathy in the classroom? Ever been to an Empathy Library? And is it time to invent the world’s first Empathy Museum? Come and step into someone else’s shoes in this talk by the bestselling author of The Wonderbox and How to Find Fulfilling Work. Friday 28th March at 6.30pm
On two evenings we will be keeping the Marquee open until 10pm – Thursday 27th and Friday 28th. The Oxford Jazz Trio will serenade you with a mix of jazz standards from the American songbook as well as some funkier numbers from 8pm on the Friday
For reminders and updates follow #FREEintheMarquee on Twitter
We hope that you agree that our Marquee is shaping up to be the hub of the Festival, it is open to all whether you have tickets for Festival events or not. Do come and play!
It’s Valentines Day. Just for fun (and a modest prize) ourselves and the inspirational Story Museum are running a competition on Twitter We want your tiny stories of love – only 140 characters allowed (including #BookRomance) so you must be brief (like so many of my love affairs)
Bonus points for a bookish theme. Double bonus for including the shop.
We will add our favourites to this post throughout the day
Go on, melt our hearts…
We applaud Robert Lipscombe for his bravery, ingenuity and passion for publishing his most recent novel as a newspaper and we thank him for taking the time to write this fascinating piece for Broad Conversation.
The English Project is available now from our Fiction Department on our Ground Floor for just £2.99
A newspaper? And yet a literary novel? One hundred and forty-four silkily tabloid pages loaded with contemporary artwork? And why is it called The English Project —somebody’s essay, perchance? Perhaps a social-political initiative in a run-down neighbourhood, on the American model —could it be that? And since it’s a quarter of a million words of text, why is it only £2.99… that’s roughly 800 words per pence, my calculator tells me. Talk about bucking the trend. But is there any point? And why does the flag [is it?], on the cover, that is — appear so faded, khaki-coloured, even tinged with blood? And why is there a sky-blue colour, leaking, as it were, from the panels?
In case you are asking these very reasonable questions, here are some modest attempts to answer them. The flag is faded, yes, perhaps tinged with blood, as you say, to represent the swag wagon of empire, now become a tumbrel, in fact — still on the road but now poorly maintained and somehow hijacked ..or perhaps just so much more obvious as it fades. You’ll see St George rather pitifully fending off an enormous serpent; a weeping angel, gaze averted, but refusing to abandon the nation, hitches a reluctant ride at the back; a unicorn ‘abandons ship’; and while infants labour to turn the heavy wheels of this historic bugaboo as it lumbers towards its end, the reins are firmly in the hands of the diabolical Doctors Pisle and Gisle of The College. As to the sky-blue colour breaking through the khaki panels— this is the promise, still considerably in doubt, true, but of a brighter future for us all— if we can only get the tumbrel stowed and definitively locked away at last.
But a newspaper? Why so? Well, broadly speaking, on the axis which runs from fact to fantasy a newspaper is perceived to be predominantly factual, or at least fact-specific and in its narratives true-to-what-is-in-fact-the-case. A novel, in sharp distinction, is usually a book, and is perceived to be located towards the fantasy, or at least ‘imaginary world’ end of the axis. At best it explores possibilities — possible environments and possible events within those environments only ‘as if’ they were real. A newspaper, by comparison, purports to reveal the true/real hitherto unknown facts of the environments in which we live [especially political, economic and social], and gives detailed descriptions [not always accurate!] of events within those environments which are thought to really matter in the everyday business of life. In short, what’s in the newspaper really matters; what’s in a novel does not. Everybody knows that.
So the newspaper, in that it purports to be the vehicle of truth about the world, conventionally enables and engenders dissent. However, a novel is fictive and does not much matter in terms of everyday needs and is far more easily dismissed — its dangers [if any] generally overlooked, even disregarded. Of the two, naturally enough, power greatly prefers the novel [of course, although ever disdaining to read it], considering it to be a far lesser dog with smaller, duller teeth and a snout that is imprecise in its attack. What better way, then, to smuggle truths into a public space than a fictive, obviously imaginary text dressed up/down as a weekly rag? As Hugo Thayer says on page 24 [column three]‘without truth we sleep in the demon’s lair — a fitful, dangerous sleep.. so art comes at truth by devious ways, enchanting its audience, stealing closer, closer yet — until it is suddenly upon us. .. There! And now it has you marked! Will you scurry away? Or will you stare it in the face?’
Yes, The English Project novel in a newspaper is a true hybrid at the level of information and cannot fit into either column in a truth table. Furthermore, the newspaper is flimsy, throwaway, the price of a pint, a thing to be swiftly browsed and then binned, or left on a seat – as such it is very nearly common property for those very reasons. A novel, especially a literary novel, on the other hand, and especially in its hardback form, is a possession, the property either of an individual or of a library. As an owned object it carries the presumption that its existence has been licensed by the gatekeepers, whether they be literary agents or publishers [except, of course, in the case of self-published publications — and these, no matter how good they may be, for the reason stated suffer inevitably from a certain lightness, perhaps even a perceived spuriousness, a not-quite-adequateness].
Furthermore, a conventional publishing of a book swankily purports to certify and affirm a competitive quality-in-itself in the text so brought to publication and this a self-publication quite blatantly lacks. This is so precisely because the flow of information, of story, of comment, of written discourse is guided, monitored and to a very real extent directed by the status quo, by power made fair-seeming and palatable by ‘authority’, the authority which licenses itself to license text to be. The apparent quality-in-itself of the conventionally published book is actually in most cases little more than a kite mark of the invisible censor and it is this invisible imprimatur, this itself quite spurious mark that lends the book its often quite spurious weight. In the main, however, the kite mark means only this: the writing herein contained has been deemed acceptable to power. Hence the obvious fact that so many unworthy books are conventionally published despite their flooding the bookshops while so many others [who knows how many — it’s anybody’s guess] remain forever manuscripts gathering dust. By comparison with the conventionally ‘kite marked’ book, the newspaper is flimsy by design and by default, charged with fleetingness, with provisoriness, and is always incomplete— is something which typically can be carried away in a wind. It is both subversive by nature and as discountable as shiftless rumour [as long as it does not libel the powerful]. Indeed, the truths of a newspaper are as it were under water; the lies of a conventional novel are so to speak above board.
Now it may well prove to be the case that newspapers are in fact as much fictive as novels are true to the facts [or if you prefer it: the newspaper lies to the same degree that a novel tells the truth]. Either way, it is a truth that a literary novel published as a newspaper endows the writing with a quite peculiar relationship to truth.
But there is a further, more important reason why The English Project is deeply, inescapably ambiguous and equivocal.
It would have to fiction, Hugo Thayer tells the Good Men and True [those cruel executioners]…. ‘You’d need to put a real man into a real situation which is um, it’d have to be horrible, yes, but everyday, even quite banal. Fathers fighting for the right to see their children, for example, in the secret family courts. A national scandal which everyone knows about. I mean a real blot on our record as a society, as a post-modern, basically Christian society, a really damning scandal that no one can deny.’
‘Things as they are,’ she said. ‘Your real situation.’
‘Yes. And then you’d have to expose your character to something fantastical, notional, generic, I guess… perhaps with roots in earlier traditions.. something obviously and completely farfetched but which people can make sense of somehow. Purely for purposes of entertainment, for the fun of story really. And then, once that was in place, you could present your character with this other thing, your thing, this third thing, I suppose, which would read like crime fiction on the page, or some kind of mystery thriller component… And, you see, the reader would then have the problem…’ He was thinking on his feet.
‘Yes? The reader would have the problem..?’
‘— wouldn’t know quite how to deal with the stuff, your stuff, I mean. Wouldn’t know how to relate to it.’
‘Why? Because you’d be changing the texture of the book. You’d be mixing genres. People would get confused. And the spell of suspended disbelief would be broken, which would probably kill the book, unless you linked this stuff to the other thing, the entertainment thing, the fantastical notional thing – then the one would buoy the other up, you see.. Or each would give the other a bit of camouflage, a bit more merging with reality, especially if you were able to bring them together, link them, link by link.. I don’t know.’ He paused, pondered, shook his head. ‘Either way,’ he went on, ‘with a bit of luck people would keep reading, could in fact keep reading without having to take a clear position…’
‘Do you mean a moral position? A political position?’
‘Well, I meant actually, they wouldn’t have to take a position on whether or not it was fiction. They could – relatively comfortably, I suppose – they could let the book just take them along.’
‘So people would not know whether what they were reading was fiction or not?’
‘No, no. In fact the reader would need to be able to say that it was fiction, and so probably would the author, if he could be persuaded to put his name to the book in the first place.’
‘It’s fiction?’ she asked, with undertones of anger and disbelief. ‘You’re saying it would be fiction? You?’
‘It would have to be fiction,’ he said firmly, as though coming to the realisation for the first time. ‘The kind of fiction that makes you feel very uncomfortable. A fiction which has an awful undercurrent of truth, but is nonetheless fiction. That way, you see, you’d get it past the powers that be, and then, if you were lucky, it would start to resonate, as a sort of suggestion device. And once that happened people in the know would start to blow the whistle…’
The English Project suggests that it is, in its newspaper form, itself a solution to the problems of sayability [can you really write this down and publish it?] and validity [do you really expect us to believe it is true?]. For this reason The English Project is a thing which cannot rest, cannot settle, its tensions cannot subside. For how is one to speak where no speech is licensed, none permitted to be heard? How much truth or at least countervailing reality can be articulated, uttered or written where consensus is sham and prevalent and ubiquitous – and by what means? How could a grown man declare that the emperor has no clothes? It is almost inconceivable; indeed, only a child, a naïf, a callow youth could be allowed to say such a thing precisely because the truth uttered is almost completely negated and annulled by the wholly deniable yet mildly favoured status of the person who speaks it. And so there remains a jot, a jot of truth after the subtraction of status has been made. In the case of The English Project , too, the awful things that carry the appearance of truth are purveyed through the experiences of a fictional character, by which I mean to say a character invented in a different book, a clear fictional character created many years before. This greatly reduces the danger of the narrative and burns away its awful charge, almost completely.. and yet, as with the child and the naked emperor, there remains a jot. There remains more than a jot, which taken with the newspaper format ramifies in peculiar ways. Just as was hoped.
Yes, Hugo Thayer is a character from The Salamander Tree, an earlier novel, and at all times he is treated as such — he is a fictional character as character, not a fictional character who the reader is expected to believe to be real. He asks of George Herbert [another fictional character from a different book as well as the narrator of The English Project]
.. ‘Is art a power? ..Or is it just a power to delude?’
‘I believe it to be a power,’ I conceded. ‘It can help change the world.’
‘I agree with you,’ he said, ‘It is a power, yes, but only as long as it restricts itself to make-believe.’
‘I’m not sure I follow…’
‘It must allow itself to know that it deludes. It is ludic, ironic even when epic or deadly serious, apparently, or it loses its power to change the world.’
‘So if art takes itself too seriously,’ I started..
‘Or, which is the same thing, of course — if it too closely follows so-called reality, even when reality is funny – having one of its comic turns…’
‘Then it loses its power. And the light disappears.’
‘The light disappears?’
‘Pulled back. The light falls back. It falls back down into the black hole of the real.’
‘The real is a black hole?’
‘Yes. In a sense it most definitely is.’ He gave me a sudden, bright smile. ‘But we don’t have to worry, George,’ he appeared to wink. ‘Because we’re both characters in a book.’
I smiled back, notionally. I was bored with it, quite naturally. But then, as ever, he took me out into the deep, deep water and again I grew afraid.
‘Remember the Ancient Mariner? Who stoppeth one in three…’
‘The poem, yes.’
‘The man, the character — who had seen too much, who simply had to speak… that’s me. Except I cannot speak, I mustn’t speak. Not just because they threatened me with prison if I spoke.. there’s the other thing, too, you know.’ He paused, waiting for me to take it up.
‘What other thing?’
‘When you see something,’ he said, ‘something pernicious, even wicked, that gives the lie to everything that decent people cherish and desperately need to believe in… and the evidence is secret, only barely glimpsed, hard to put together, incredibly complicated and almost impossible to give an effective account of… because veiled, fair-seeming, carefully managed.. Then, if you are alone in what you see, how can you speak? The culture is a force, a tide, a rushing river. You cannot stand against it. You must do something else.’
Interestingly, in The English Project you will find the most satisfying comic moments in close association with the most awful things of all in the text [what you might refer to as the very hard edge of political veracity in the work]. These flow from the character of a family court judge, now a spirit engaged in case study work in Hell, whose overwhelming intention is to get out of Hell by collaboration with one of his own former victims.. Now, this character does not purport to be fictional nor does the narrative suggest that he is, despite the fact that he is a spirit. Indeed, not for nothing has it been promised to him that he is to be the Spirit of England. And yet, as the novel draws to an end there is a further suggestion to the effect that the whole thing was simply feverishly dreamt up by a person in a cave. Ah, but this takes us back to Plato, does it not?
So we can ask of this newspaper novel What is being said? Who speaks? What is their status and how does this affect their plausibility, their credibility? George Herbert writes [after all, he is the narrator of The English Project ]… if you want to know the truth
.. you’ll need a man like me; In the general run of things, if you want to know something that really matters you’ll be needing a person like myself — a person of no consequence, a person with nothing to lose. You’ll get my drift soon enough. You’ll see the need for parables, for coded talk, not a blurred babble that entertains but does not challenge. And by happy chance I am free; free of the claw roots of income and repute, free of respectability. I am of an age and state to lay me down in a cardboard box, companionable and loyal to my peers, that commonwealth of citizens under all the bridges in all the cities of the world. And Hugo Thayer, I reckon, saw all of this straight off. He was probably paranoid, yes, but he was very perceptive. He had my card marked right from the start.
The novel in the newspaper is really about the challenge of writing in its purest, most ardent form.. the challenge to power [as Thayer himself says], and its search for a gestalt, a story which has sufficient power in itself to carry the challenge to the inmost court of power itself.
And of course there is the proposition that The English Project is only a thrown spark from The English Project itself, which is a spiritual configuration of energies in evolutionary space, a challenge laid upon the nation in its journey towards evolution. Hence the association with Stauffenberg, who took the bomb in a briefcase to a meeting with Hitler, and with The German Project, a similar spiritual challenge which was laid upon the nation of Germany in the twentieth century and which was hijacked by gangsters to become The Third Reich.
The novel asks very seriously, are we truly spiritual beings? Is there a process underway, an unviewed, unimagined enactment of which we know nothing and yet such that it is the only important reality in our lives— which are otherwise shadowy, notional, even imaginary? Can story enable evolutionary energies; can it liberate populations from the delusions, false beliefs and manipulated consciousness visited on them by means of their rulers and their helpmeets? Does each nation really face evolutionary challenges, tailor-made and of the utmost significance and import?
The English Project does have an objective correlative, which is a father child story in its environment of the nefarious secret courts. But what this novel in a newspaper is really about is whether writers can make a spiritual contribution to the nation’s fate. Do please have a browse and get in early on the debate.
Robert Lipscombe February 2014
At the start of the academic year we held a series of free talks in the shop by world-class academics. If you missed them you can see them on our YouTube channel:
It is, therefore, with great delight that we are able to announce another round of stellar talks giving a wealth of education over the course of a week. All of the talks are absolutely FREE to attend and last for approximately 30 minutes.
3pm each day, Monday 24th February – Friday 28th February
Monday 24th February at 3pm
Paul Collier “Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century”
Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government
Tuesday 25th February at 3pm
Alister McGrath “Science and Religion”
Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education at King’s College London;
Professor McGrath is a hugely respected theologian and will be returning to Oxford in April as Andreos Idreos Professor of Science and Religion
A prolific author, some of his most popular books include a biography of CS Lewis, a critique of Richard Dawkins and many books on Christian apolgetics
Wednesday 26th February at 3pm
Eugene Rogan “What Became of the Arab Spring?”
University lecturer in the Modern History of the Middle East;
Fellow of St Antony’s College
In a review of The Arabs by Eugene Rogan The Economist said “It is not a particularly happy story, but it is a fascinating one, and exceedingly well told.” He is currently working on a new book entitled The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920, to be published later this year
Thursday 27th February at 3pm
Ian Goldin “Is Globalization Bad?”
Professor of Globalisation and Development
Professor Goldin was formerly Vice President of the World Bank and is currently Director of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford. His most recent book ‘Divided Nations’ tackles head-on some of the systemic issues surrounding globalisation and suggest a new, and radical, need for institutional change
Friday 28th February at 3pm
Alexandra Harris “Studying English with Virginia Woolf”
Lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool
Alexandra Harris is a rising star of the academic and literary worlds. She won the Guardian First Book Award in 2010 for Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper and her short book on the life and works Virginia Woolf fizzes off the page and serves as a brilliant introduction to an inspiring author.
Everyone is welcome to these talks – no need to book just turn up, sit down and soak up the knowledge! We look forward to seeing you there
Our events programme for the New Year kicks off with what promises to be a poignant, very personal evening with novelist and biographer Nicholas Shakespeare. He will be talking about his most recent book ‘Priscilla: Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France’ The book has garnered fantastic reviews and featured in many ‘Books of the Year’ listings. This biography of his late aunt Vicomtesse Priscilla Doynel de la Sausserie raises a number of difficult questions about her relationship with the Gestapo. The story is gripping, reading like a novel, but it is the authors search for the truth behind his flawed relative that is most compelling.
Nicholas Shakespeare is with us on Tuesday January 14th at 7pm. Tickets cost £3 and are available from our Customer Service Desk in the shop; by telephoning 01865 333623 or by email from firstname.lastname@example.org
Other author events in January include Jonathan Porritt and AC Grayling – our full listing can be found here
On January 1st 1879 Benjamin Henry Blackwell opened the doors of his brand new bookshop on 50 Broad Street, following the tradition of his father, Benjamin Harris Blackwell, who had opened a bookshop in St Clements in 1846. The shop was very small – only 12 foot square, and legend has it that when there was but a single customer in the shop the bookselling apprentice had to stand outside on the cobbled street to allow enough room for comfortable browsing. In the early days the shop sold secondhand and rare books only.
‘I fear you have chosen the wrong side of the street to be successful’ were the words of publisher Frederick Macmillan on opening an account for Mr Blackwell; as we celebrate our 135th year here we can say with some justification that this side of the street suits us perfectly.
Over the years there have been many changes to the shop – moving into the houses either side, converting Bliss Court (a labyrinth of cramped cottages where the Modern Fiction section currently lives) and, most magnificently, creating the vast underground chamber that is the Norrington Room. The mural pictured here was the last major work of celebrated artist Edward Bawden which, despite the exuberant attempts of some students over the years, remains in pristine condition!
The shop has been feted in poems and books:
“Happy the morning giving time to stop
An hour at once in Basil Blackwell’s shop
There, in the Broad, within whose booky house
Half of England’s scholars nibble books or browse.
Where’er they wander blessed fortune theirs:
Books to the ceiling, other books upstairs;
Books, doubtless, in the cellar and behind
Romantic bays, where iron ladders wind.“
“He was standing at the table in Blackwell’s where
recent German books were displayed, setting
aside a little heap of purchases.“(Evelyn Waugh – Brideshead Revisited)
We are still proudly family-owned, independent in though and deed. It is the legion of loyal customers from all over the world that has ensured the success and longevity of the bookshop. We thank you for your continued support and look forward with eagerness and optimism to the next 135 years!
January is a notoriously unpopular month for new publications. The upside to this is that new books published in the month can receive more review coverage and more support in the bookshop than might otherwise be the case. When we first saw The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves we thought that it would do pretty well for us. We underestimated just what a nerve it would hit with our customers.
This is an extraordinary book – the distillation of 25 years of conversations from the psychiatrists chair. Human stories that will illuminate and enlighten you.
“Grosz’s vignettes are so brilliantly put together that they read like pieces of bare, illuminating fiction. . . . It is this combination of tenacious detective work, remarkable compassion and sheer, unending curiosity for the oddities of the human heart that makes these stories utterly captivating.”
Robert Collins — The Sunday Times
The paperback edition is now available in the shop
9780099549031 £8.99 and part of our 342 offer
William Dalrymple is an absolute favourite author of many of our staff and customers alike so it was with great anticipation that his new book on the first Afghan war, The Return of the King was received. Of course it did not disappoint, it’s a Dalrymple. Meticulously researched and with a cracking story that was delivered with brio on the page. The obvious parallels to the current conflict add a piquancy that jabs the reader on every page.
“Of the books swooped into being by Dalrymple’s scholarship this one is the most magnificent…”
Diana Athill – The Guardian
The paperback edition is due for publication on January 30th
The Oxford Literary Festival is always a highlight for the shop and 2013 was no exception – gone was the sweltering heat of the previous couple of years to be replaced by snowfall on the first Sunday. The perishing cold could not deter the enthusiasm of festival-goers, booksellers and authors alike (more than 500 of them!).
The stellar cast of authors included Seamus Heaney (sadly one of his last public appearances), Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes, Cornelia Funke, William Dalrymple, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Horowitz and Philip Pullman.
Our thoughts are already on the 2014 Festival and we are delighted to be running a marquee in the Bodleian quad this year. Running from 22nd – 30th March many authors are already confirmed (Booker winner Eleanor Catton,, Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, James Naughtie, Claudia Roden, Hermione Lee, John Julius Norwich, Arne Dahl, Lauren Child to name but a few. Tickets can be bought from the Festival website.
Come and join us this year, it will be an amazing experience!
Hot on the heels of the Oxford Literary Festival was another significant project for the shop – we relocated our Music Shop from 23 Broad Street into the body of the main shop. With a proud history of running as a separate shop since 1955 but the decision to create a more comfortable shopping environment through the relocation has proved a success. It has added another dimension to the main shop and we look forward to continuing to offer the most interesting range of printed music, classical recordings, musical instruments and accessories for many years to come
It is no surprise that books about Oxford play a very important role for the shop. May saw the publication of a new book of poems and illustrations about our beautiful city, That Sweet City: Visions of Oxford with poems by John Elinger and illustrations by Katherine Shock. We held a launch party in the shop and gave over the exhibition space in our coffee shop as part of Oxfordshire Artweek.
There is a poem about the shop in the book and this lovely illustration of our handsome shop front, but our recommendation is not narcissistic – see this blog about the book
The death of Iain (M) Banks on the 9th June was particularly affecting – he was much loved by booksellers the length and breadth of the land for his good humour, unfailing support of the book trade and a love of whisky that seemed to know no bounds. A number of us in the shop had personal dealings with him over the years and each told a tale of warmth and affection.
This statement on his blog brought a tear to our eye – in fact it still does. Booksellers salute you Iain!
I cannot do this book justice – yes, I can describe the contents, yes, I can call it one of our Books of the Year, yes, I can point you to reviews. But none of this will do it justice. Only reading it will do that.
I do not have any direct experience of autistic children but this book knocked me sideways. Come to this book with an open heart and an inquisitive mind and you will be rewarded in many surprising ways.
The paperback edition is due for publication on the 27th March
At the very end of August we heard the sad, sad news that Seamus Heaney had died. He was a towering literary figure who was well known to Oxford and to the shop. He visited us many times especially during his tenure as Professor of Poetry at the University from 1989 to 1994.
There is nothing that I can add to the acres of words eulogising him other than to say that in our own small world he charmed and excited countless booksellers whenever we had the good fortune to spend time in his company.
From 5.30pm on Friday 22nd March as part of The Oxford Literary Festival Seamus Heaney was in conversation with Kevin Crossley-Holland. The title of the talk was ‘The Life of a Poet’. Those who were fortunate enough to attend saw a warm, gentle, humane artist – it was a privilege. To think it will never be repeated is very sad indeed.
Now it’s high watermark
And floodtide in the heart
And time to go…
What’s left to say?
Suspect too much sweet talk
But never close your mind.
It was a fortunate wind
That blew me here. I leave
Half-ready to believe
That a crippled trust might walk
And the half-true rhyme is love.
from The Cure At Troy
Books Are My Bag was a trade wide campaign launched to promote the benefits of physical bookshops. Saturday 14th September was designated as The Big Bookshop Party. It will be a day that lives long in our memory as we were overwhelmed by delightful comments by customers, an atmosphere of joy and celebration throughout the shop and, happily, great sales!
Just one of the highlights was a ‘Truth & Reconciliation’ moment with Giles Coren As part of a cracking article he wrote about the campaign he gave us this, er, interesting mention. I promised on Twitter that we wouldn’t arrest him if he came to the shop on Saturday. I guess this meant that he could come in and take every book he wants. He didn’t…
It was a day that was good for the soul – a great day to be a bookseller and a humbling day to be a Blackwellian.
As Richard Ovenden, interim Bodley Librarian tweeted on the day
“We are so lucky in Oxford to have @blackwelloxford: both civic amenity & cultural institution! Great atmosphere today with @booksaremybag”
Like I said, a humbling and joyful day
Ah, Morrissey, you Penguin Black Classic you. It may have caused outrage to some -
“The droning narcissism of the later stages – enlivened by the occasional flick-knife twist of character sketch, or character assassination (watch out, Julie Burchill) – may harm his name a little. It ruins that of his publisher. For the stretches in which in his brooding, vulnerable, stricken voice uncoils, particularly across his Mancunian youth, Morrissey will survive his unearned elevation. I doubt that the reputation of Penguin Classics will.”
Boyd Tonkin – The Independent
- but it was a great publishing event. I say get over it Boyd. For fans of the Mancunian wordsmith the book is an expected joy – lyrical, wry and biting in turn. The first 100 pages are an exceptional piece of kitchen-sink social history. At times it will get too much but, I say, dip into it, don’t take it too seriously and you will have a wonderful time.
“There’s more to life than books, you know
But not much more
Oh, there’s more to life than books, you know
But not much more, not much more”
The Smiths ‘Handsome Devil’
November 22nd marked the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. A memorial stone was laid in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey
For us the standout book published to commemorate this anniversary was Alistair McGrath’s C.S. Lewis: A Life We were fortunate enough to receive copies of the hardback edition ahead of the official publication date with the author appearing at the Oxford Literary Festival in March. Through the summer, with the influx of American visitors, sales continued to soar and even with the release of the paperback edition in October the hardback continued selling up to Christmas.
The reputation of CS Lewis, as academic, author and Christian apologist appears to me to be in a constant state of flux. This even-handed biography is a good place to start if you want to understand more about the thoughts and influences on this ‘Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet’
And so to December and the crucial Christmas period for us (although not as crucial to us as to some retailers).
We felt very smart in our fresh new look for Christmas…
…and we are delighted to report that the performance of the shop was strong!
Our bestselling books included:
Complementing the books we had our best-ever selection of literary themed gifts which you appeared to fall in love with:
Our attention is now fully focused on the new year – the one thing that I am supremely confident about is that the bookshop will continue to work hard on being the best that it can be for book-lovers. I have said it many times before and I have no reason to alter my view that it is the customers we have that allow us to be the bookshop we are. Our commitment to presenting you with the very best books that we can find remains undimmed. We know that you like that!
On behalf of Blackwell’s I hope that your 2014 is full of bookish loveliness, I know that ours will be!
At the start of the academic year we invited some of the leading academics who are friends of the shop to give a series of short talks about why their chosen subject inspires them. The talks were filmed and are presented here on our Youtube channel for your edification and delight!
When we first had the idea to invite the academics we had no idea what the response would be – it is, after all, a very busy time for very busy people. We were bowled over by the response we got so I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all once again publicly.