The Oxford Literary Festival – Set Up and the First Weekend In Pictures

The unpacking begins – this might take a while

You can’t create a masterpiece with out making some mess

The Nerve Centre

The shelves are up but empty – watch this space

Will the unpacking ever end?

Coffee needed as things take shape

Remember those empty shelves

Occasionally Zool will yodel to keep spirits high

Build it and they will come

Jemima on the till – she is Queen of Everything at #oxlitfest

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Marilynne Robinson, Tony Benn, and the role of bookshops

So – the Autumn Events Calendar at 50 Broad Street is about to go into full swing and it’s a time of great excitement on many levels . . . Apart from anything else, we’ve looked on enviously at the event calendars of our rivals for a little while and now there’s the feeling that our calendar might actually be the best around . . Dare we believe it to be so?! Marilynne Robinson is the undoubted highlight and the event(s) that everyone has been buzzing about straight away – she is a world-class writer, some would say our greatest living novelist, and to have her name grace our programme is just awe-inspiring. (If you have not yet read ‘Gilead‘ – please elevate it to the top of your ‘Must-Read’ list – you will not regret it, it is a truly beautiful, powerful novel – the best book I read last year). But the whole programme has a real quality to it – events that will really intrigue, inspire and enthrall – Ian Sinclair, Bettany Hughes and Audrey Niffenegger all feature . . .

Tony Benn said at a recent Oxford Literary Festival that literary festivals (and, by extension of that, all programmes of author events) are almost like the new public meetings – not just individual occasions of interest but actual forums where the world moves forward through discussion, free and frank exchanges of views, philosophical extemporisations . . . a pretty inspiring thought, no?

The media has it that we are a politically apathetic nation, but if you are an audience member during a discussion where any big issue of the day is being discussed – you can witness just how much people want to engage with our writers and thinkers – people have views, they have challenging questions, they want to twist and grapple with thorny subjects, they want to apply the rhetorical machine gun to loose and flimsy thinking and they find that events and panel discussions can be just the forum at which this intellectual scrutiny can take place.

Of course, bookshops as a whole are focal points of debate and discussion too. An inspiring fellow bookseller once told me that bookshops ought not just to be reflecting the debates going on in the news, in pubs and in universities, but ought to be playing a role in creating some of those debates too . . .