Blackwell’s Books has been the center of Oxford for as long as I have known the city–the center of MY Oxford, at least. At various times there have been as many as five separate Blackwell’s shops within the few hundred yards of Broad Street, but now the Traveller’s shop sells nicknacks and the children’s shop, where one could see part of the ancient city wall in the back while the kids were deciding which Asterix and Obelix they hadn’t read, is no more. Still, even with the main bookstore and the art shop, I am content.
So I was absolutely chuffed to be asked to do an event there this year for Touchstone. Adrian Magson and I sat and talked to a group of perhaps two dozen readers in the coffee house upstairs, but you can see part of the stacks over my shoulder. The Norrington Room, with its three miles of shelves where a person can find the Regius Professor of Divinity browsing alongside an Anglican priest from Uganda and a tourist from Calgary, is downstairs and to the left, but if you go, prepare to spend the day within that one room, until you stumble outside and follow the odor of hops and Scotch Eggs to the White Horse next door.
Incidentally, Dorothy L Sayers worked for Blackwell’s publishing house after graduating from Oxford, and the company published her first book, a volume of poetry. I can’t say I felt her looking down on us, but I am always aware of Sir Basil Blackwell himself, the founder’s son and the company’s director until his death in 1984 at the age of 85. Sir Basil was still around when I first started coming here, and he invariably greeted my husband with solemn pleasure. Then again, he greeted everyone with solemn pleasure, whether he recognized them or not.
The photo thanks to Adrian Magson and Jool Verjee, the great Blackwell’s events coordinator.