Month: May 2011

Bookshop at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

We were approached a few months ago to select and supply some English books for a new bookshop that was opening at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy in Baku. 6000 books across a range of subjects from Children’s to Politics and IR were ordered packed and shipped.

This is the first bookshop in Baku that stocks books in English alongside books in Russian and Azeri.

The deputy manager of the shop, Rovshana, visited our shops in Oxford and Manchester and she has kindly sent through a number of photos. As you can see it is a stunning bookshop. So in my best Azeri ‘Ve seni coh sevirem’

Your Favourite Oxford Novel?

There is no shortage of choice for novels set in Oxford. From classics such as Brideshead Revisited through to Colin Dexter’s Morse  Oxford in books is a veritable hotspot of love, intrigue, machination and murder. So much murder! Listed below are 15 novels that have an Oxford connection, let us know which is your favourite. If your favourite is not listed do add it in the comments.

We will run a promotion over the summer and would be very happy to include your quotes as we find out what the favourite Oxford novel is. Get voting, get campaigning!

The Orwell Prize Winner

The winner of the Orwell Prize was announced this week. I think that most interested parties thought that the book prize would go to Christopher Hitchens for his funny, moving and, at times, brutally honest memoir Hitch 22. However, the award went to the late Tom Bingham for The Rule of Law. I must say that it is a fine choice – a short, accessible book that has brio, clarity and commonsense in equal measure, and yet, a book that will influence some important debates over the coming years.

Bingham himself points out in the video below the phrase ‘rule of law’ is used frequently but without challenge to what it really means. His book is crystal clear, not only in describing what the rule of law is, but also why it is so important.

Like all the best non-fiction you will feel more informed for reading it and will find yourself well armed for any discussions that you may have with your friends on the topics it covers. With Tom Bingham in your back pocket I fancy your chances of winning…

Below is a talk that Lord Bingham gave at the RSA.

More on The Orwell Prize here

Banana Blog Hop!

Oh, I’m a one. I come home a wee bit tipsy and stumble across the magnificent Melville House blog who are offering the chance to win a copy of the new Banana Yoshimoto novel if I blog about these three questions:

Hook, line, sinker. I’ll play.

Question one “What’s the most unusual love story you’ve ever read?” 

Answer: Probably the love triangle between Toru, Naoko and Midori in Murukami’s Norwegian Wood. Understated passion, conflict and confusion. You know, stuff that is real yet imagined at the same time. Ambiguity rules and the reader is encouraged to take their own view on which character they connect with primarily. Either that or Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot – but that’s too challenging to attempt to write about in my current state,

Question two “What’s your favorite novel from another country?”

Answer: Tonight, Matthew I will go for Bulgakov’s ‘Master and Margarita’ – a psychedelic riot of imagination that is political, subversive and ambitious beyond belief. I cannot remotely do justice to it in a few words – just thank me for encouraging you to read it. And a big cat. A big, black cat.

Question three “Why would you be interested in winning a copy of Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake?”

Answer:  Because I know that her real name is Mahoko – without even Googling it. And Bananas are good for you – I need all the help that I can get.

Here’s the cover

Each copy sold helps  Japan Disaster Relief. A good thing…
I’ve won, haven’t I?
Euan x

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Do Awards Matter?

Ask any bookseller why they remain a bookseller and the stock reply is ‘I just kinda fell into it, but I love it.’ It is certainly not to get rich and it is often seen as a step to getting published or a job in publishing.

Equally, a significant amount of people who leave bookselling stay in touch and say how much they miss the camaraderie, the closeness to the books and the ‘essence’ of working in a bookshop.

We see it as honourable and important – there is nothing like the satisfaction of placing a book in a customers hands that you know they are going to love. It might even change their life. We take this ‘power’ seriously, and recognise that it is recompense for the inevitable monotony of much of the day job.

Most customers who thank us for what we do have no idea just how heartening it is for us to hear that. It validates what we hold dear. Sometimes it is unspoken, but we see the effect that bookseller recommendations can have on sales of specific titles (our current staff choice in Blackwell’s has seen an extraordinary uplift in sales of those books). Blackwell’s Broad St has just received validation on a grand scale.

This week saw the Book Industry Conference, where the great and the good of British publishing and bookselling gathered to talk about the present and the future. On the Monday night of the conference was the gala dinner and the annual awards ceremony. Blackwell’s was proud to have two nominations – Micha Solana for Young Bookseller of the Year and Broad Street’s very own Zool Verjee for Manager of the Year. We were blown away to win in both categories (Micha shared that award with Gorgina Hanratty of Tales on Moon LaneChildren’s bookshop). Will Gompertz wrote an excellent piece on the awards here

Zool winning has given a real boost to the whole of the shop this week – if a 132 year old bookshop can have a spring in it’s step then it has had that and more since the announcement. Zool may be reticent about me saying this but the award was truly deserved – he has been instrumental in raising our ambition as a bookshop. The fabulous collaboration with Creation Theatre wouldn’t have happened without him. He has taken on stunning events with the likes of Amartya SenShirley Williams and Richard Dawkins to name just a few. He has helped to build and build the bookselling activity at the Oxford Literary Festival over a number of years. Two weeks ago he took the Eurostar to Paris to sell buckets of books at an Oxford Almni reunion. His ability to manage detail whilst maintaining an impressive vision for the possible is extraordinary. Of course (and Zool would be the first to insist that this is said) many other people are instrumental in helping us deliver our Events and Marketing activity. That the British book industry explicitly recognised his talents is not only a reflection on Zool, but also a stamp of approval on the direction that we are working on taking one of the great bookshops in the world.

Zool, I salute you. And I love your rather marvellous trophy

The Guilt of Re-Reading Books

It is a rather marvelous thing to be surrounded by books all day at work. Books that have changed the world, books that might still change the world; books that remind you of the best of times and the worst of times in your own life; books that matter and books that only matter to you. But also, in a bookshop the size of Blackwell’s on Broad St there are inevitably dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of books that you haven’t read and that you wish you had.

No biggie. Accept that there will be books that I don’t get around to reading – read the books that I want to read, not feel that I should read.

But this ‘problem’ does still have an angle that perturbs me; I often feel guilty about re-reading books rather than cracking on with something new to me. And so this morning I was clearing some of my bookshelves at home and Don DeLillo’s masterpiece Underworld was sitting in my hands staring up at me. I read this book back in the mists of time – 1998 I think, but great swathes of it have remained with me, especially the Prologue – 63 pages of compelling detail about a baseball game. I really fancied reading it again and have spent a lovely couple of hours this afternoon transported to the bleachers at the Polo Grounds watching the Giants and the Dodgers play for the 1951 National League pennant. Bobby Thompson’s ‘Shot heard ’round the World’ and all.

No guilt for me today. Just pure unadulterated pleasure.

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