Blackwell’s Books

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.


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  1. annie on June 29, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    I too, love Blackwells. Tell me – are Asterix & Obelix known much in the US?

  2. Strawberry Curls on June 29, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    I have to admit when I read Asterix & Obelix my mind jumped to Asterisk** and Ellipsis… for some weird reason. Of course, in the next second I was asking myself why children would be trying to make a decision on which of these they hadn’t read, and I realized they must be a series of books. A quick google search brought me to that limited font of information Wikipedia and to this article —

    I have never heard of these comics, but my knowledge of the “graphic novel” as they are now called, is a bit limited, and never ventured into French comics. As always you have added to my education, Ms. King. I so wish I might have been at Blackwell’s to hear your talk, but I can only hope that pleasure might be mine some day in the future. It is always pleasant to have these little goals, these personal desires to hope for in the future.

  3. Anna C. on June 29, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Oh yes, Asterix and Obelix are around. My children (boys, 7 and 11) love them, although I don’t know if their friends do. They are available to a limited extent at our local library, but we own a fairly large collection. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen them in stores here, though. The boys were delighted to discover, when we went to France last spring, that there bookstores have whole rooms of “graphic novels” for all ages and interest groups. We brought back several. All of our souvenirs were books, of course.

    There is a line in DLS where Harriet says to Gerry something like “What book could you possibly want that you couldn’t find in Blackwell’s?” Actually it’s in _Thrones, Dominations_ so maybe DLS didn’t write it, but I love the line.

  4. Jessara on June 29, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    This makes me feel about Asterix’s age. I discovered the books when I was a teen, and when I had a daughter, she read my collection, and now I expect my granddaughter will read it. Sigh. Fortunately they hold up better than American comic books, both physically and topically.

  5. Chris on June 30, 2008 at 3:20 am

    Oh yes, Blackwells in Oxford – one time favourite bookshop of mine when I had my first car and would drive the 40 miles or so from Swindon in the late 80s… I discovered so many of my Collins Crime Club authors’ books in their Crime area!

    And, as for Asterix – I still have the first books I bought in the mid-70s, and have continued to buy them right through to the current – though rare – new albums. The humour that the English langauage translators brought to the books is wonderful…!

  6. Phil the Badger on June 30, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    The bbookshop and the urban pub of the world. To find them side by side was to feel I had died and gone to heaven. Only the realisation of the utter improbability of such a destination made me realise I was still on this (blessed) Earth.

    Eheu fugaces. Will I ever enter either of those hallowed halls again?

    Phil the Badger

  7. riobonito on June 30, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Sure that isn’t your cousin? You both have dimples!

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