In the first in a new series on bookshops around the world that academics should visit, Amelia Sharman, a PhD student at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE, shares her favourite bookshops in Oxford. If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, find more information about contributing below.
Oxford is practically synonymous with learning; therefore it is no surprise that it is the home to some of the best bookshops in the UK, the most famous of which has to be the Broad Street outpost of Blackwell’s (48-50 Broad Street). Housing over 250,000 books, Blackwell’s cavernous size has to be seen to be believed, particularly the Norrington Room which at 10,000 square feet is in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest single room selling books in the world.
Most of this enormous subterranean room, which contains three miles of shelving, is actually located underneath the gardens of neighbouring Trinity College and is a perfect browsing spot for a rainy afternoon. While there are now nine different Blackwell’s outposts around Oxford (containing specialist collections of art, rare books, children’s books and university texts among others), the main shop, opened by Benjamin Blackwell himself in 1879, is definitely one that must be seen to be believed.
If you can’t find the book you’re looking for at Blackwell’s (highly unlikely as that may be), it’s definitely worth visiting the original Oxfam bookshop, at 56 St Giles Street. Celebrating its 27th year in 2014, this outpost of the second-hand book behemoth is tailor-made for its student environment, with a rapid turnover of new stock, from the ubiquitous cookery tomes (perfect for those first forays beyond instant noodles), to reference series and more. Books are priced reasonably, although given the quality of some of its acquisitions don’t always expect to find a bargain. For example, a rare, donated Graham Greene novel, the print-run of which was limited to a mere 1,200 as its own author described it containing “badness beyond the power of criticism”, sold for £15,000 in 2008! The shop even has an Amazon page which lists items available for purchase via the internet, showing an astute ability to move with the times.
However, my absolute favourite bookshop in Oxford has to be the Last Bookshop. While there used to be a few outlets of this gem around Oxford, only one remains, at 7 New Inn Hall Street, right behind St Peter’s College. Everything in this fantastic store is only a mere £2 (yes, every single book!). The (all new) stock is made up of remainder academic, literary or other specialist books from a variety of publishers, as well as stocks of children’s books and there is always something new to be found. It’s a great way to become acquainted with a new author or series, such as the brilliant ‘Introducing’ graphic guides which I found a few copies of some years ago, and is a treasure trove for gifts. Definitely one to revisit regularly as you’ll never know what might appear.
So, if you can tear yourself away from the stunning Bodleian or other, no less beautiful, college libraries (my personal favourite, although I’m completely biased as an alumna, is the St John’s College library), Oxford is a fantastic place for a bibliophile with a few pounds in their pocket to spend.
Editor’s Note: The Last Bookshop recommended in this article is now sadly closed, though a branch is located on Walton Street.
Amelia Sharman is a PhD student at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE. Her main research interests are in the relationship between science and policy, and uncertainty and controversy in political decision-making. Previously, Amelia was a Sustainability Specialist at the International Hydropower Association and a Senior Policy Advisor at the New Zealand Ministry for Economic Development. Read more reviews by Amelia.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, then now’s your chance to tell us all about it.
As part of a new weekly feature on LSE Review of Books, we’re asking academics and students to recommend their favourite two or three bookshops in a particular city, with the aim of building an exciting online series for our book-loving community of readers the world over.
Bookshops could be academic, alternative, foreign language, hobby-based, secret or underground institutions, second hand outlets, or connected to a university. We’d like to cover all world regions too.
If something comes to mind, we’re looking for around 100 words per bookshop, detailing why this place is a must-see. Our editorial team can then find suitable photos and links to accompany the piece, though you’re welcome to supply these too. We only ask that you focus on just one city or region, and two or three bookshops within it.
Email us now if you’d like to contribute: firstname.lastname@example.org