2013: A Year in our bookshop; the events, people and books that made our year


groszJanuary 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



DalrympleWilliam 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.

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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



bstcroppedIt 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!



reasonI 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.

Raine and Heaney 1987

From our Visitors book

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


tenreasonsBooks 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 Coren BAMBGiles 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

enior academic in the University. A bit of a coup…)



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.

Autobiography by Morrissey

“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:

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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!

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