May is always one of the quieter months in the shop – students have their heads down revising, the tourist season hasn’t fully kicked in yet and there are various Bank Holidays where, often, the denizens of Oxford make a dash to warmer climes.
However, we never stop in our quest for sniffing out a sale or two and our bookstall and shop events programme was stuffed to the gills last week.
Our week started on Sunday when we attended a talk at the Sheldonian given by Faramerz Dabhoiwala, Fellow of Exeter College and author of the fantastically well received ‘Origins of Sex’. The lecture was part of the 700th Anniversary celebrations of Exeter College. The book details the extraordinary change that took place between 1600 and 1800 in the attitude of society towards sex and has been one of our bestselling History titles since its publication in February.
Monday was a day of rest but Tuesday was a day of high anticipation and excitement as the incomparable Marilynne Robinson was spending the evening in the shop. It was, as expected, a thoroughly enjoyable time with nutrition for the mind and the soul. She read from her latest book ‘When I was a Child I Read Books’ and then from ‘Gilead‘.
For many, though, the highlight was the question and answer session that followed where she fielded every query with aplomb and fluency. Her down-to-earth common sense and towering humanity shone through. A fabulous event. Hear Marilynne talk about Gilead in a Guardian podcast
On Wednesday morning we took some books along to the ‘Early Modern Lucretius’ conference where the opening lecture was given by Professor Stephen Greenblatt. His most recent book ‘The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began’ won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction this year – a worthy accolade for a simply stunning book. Obviously we took along various editions of De Rerum Natura. Sales were brisk…
Also on Wednesday one of our Children’s booksellers was out and about in schools around Oxford drumming up support for our Festival of Illustration.
In the evening we had the latest meeting of Group 2012 (the writers group that we started in January with Hersilia Press and the Oxford Editors) in the Norrington Room. It was another event that was great for the soul with guest appearances by author Mark Lynas, Juliet Mabey – the co-founder of Oneworld publications and Phil Henderson – Senior Marketing Manager at OUP. All spoke eloquently and with great insight on the topic of ‘How to get published in non-fiction’. However the highlight was the announcement that one of the writers in the group had just been snapped up by an agent. Fantastic news that was heartening for all the other group members.
Thursday dawned and I woke up very excited. Thursday was the day that I was going to meet Diego Marani. For followers of this blog and our Twitter stream you know how obsessed I have been over the past year with New Finnish Grammar. Ever since I heard that Diego was coming over to England and that he was coming to the shop I had been like a child on Christmas Eve. And now the day was here. Everything ran smoothly (except the car of Eric, the publisher) and Diego was charm and humility personified. Judith Landry, the translator of his books, read from his latest novel, ‘The Last of the Vostyachs’. I should mention that Judith is on the shortlist for the Oxford – Weidenfeld Translation Prize for her translation of New Finnish Grammar- the winner is announced on June 7th and we have everything crossed for you Judith. After the reading I asked some clunky questions which they answered with patience and supreme skill that made me look a shade less ridiculous than I felt. We learned a lot about language, national identity, the European Union and an authentic Ferrarese dialect. As Diego signed books for the audience he effortlessly spoke in Italian, English and, of course, a little Finnish. A night that I will remember for a long time.
Also on Thursday evening we took books along to a talk given by Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum on The Origin Of Our Species. The book is a tour de force on the development of the earliest humans, I would have loved to have worked this event but my Marani-love took precedence.
And so to Saturday when we had our second Festival of Literature. Boy, did our Children’s booksellers pull out all the stops. Every event throughout the day had crowds of kids hanging on every word spoken, every story told and every picture drawn by our delightful authors – Emma Chichester Clark, Clara Vulliamy and Louise Yates. Of course we musn’t forget the amazing Animation Station and Rebecca, Hannah and Harry and who made the whole day go off like a dream. I overheard one customer say ‘I love that these tiny front doors open on to a huge fairytale of a shop’ That just about sums it up.
And so onward to next week – Victoria Hislop on Sunday, Terry Eagleton on Tuesday evening, the start of OxBardFest and Liz Pichon at the Pegasus Theatre next Saturday in addition to a host of children’s bookstalls as part of the most excellent Bookfeast on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Phew! It’s not a bad job this bookselling lark 🙂