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Oxford, City Of Books

blackwells [1]

All these activities revolve around the presence of the University of Oxford, which makes hard thought a local stock-in-trade. “Brain Basil” is Oxford schoolboy slang for a clever boy, and in this city he comes two a penny. Nobody here is surprised to find that you earn your living with your mind. … For Oxford is built upon books — books being read, books being written, books being published, books in the dozen bookshops of the city, books littered through a labyrinth of libraries. — Jan Morris, Oxford [2].

Oxford is my idea of paradise, though I must say I find Cambridge even more beautiful, though sadly, neither has anything to recommend them as places to eat. Still, I’d take either, without complaint or scruple. Read Jan Morris’s book, why don’t you?

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Oxford, City Of Books"

#1 Comment By BradleyP On March 29, 2013 @ 10:19 pm

They should digitize all of that stuff and clear out the library to make it a gourmet food court.

#2 Comment By Lancelot Lamar On March 29, 2013 @ 10:53 pm

The Morris book is great. I read it after I left Oxford and was homesick for it. But the book was so accurate in capturing the place that I was even more homesick after reading it.

#3 Comment By AM Trausch On March 30, 2013 @ 2:24 am

I’m afraid that’s Trinity College in Dublin- not the Bodleian.

#4 Comment By Charles Cosimano On March 30, 2013 @ 2:31 am

A far better use for it was proposed by a friend of mine who went to Oxford for some acadamic conference or other and the organizers decided to treat their American guests to a real British banquet. Unfortunately the food was a bit too genuinely British and they all become violently ill at the same time, so it would make more sense to digitalize the books and convert the space into a bathroom large enough to hold all of the attendees at a conference simultaneously.

#5 Comment By Mark D. On March 30, 2013 @ 2:56 am

Sorry, Rod, that’s the Long Room at Trinity, Dublin. Not that I don’t love Oxford: Blackwells FTW!

#6 Comment By FN On March 30, 2013 @ 5:04 am

BradleyP, of course you are not being serious, but with your comment you still have committed a grave crime against all that is true, beautiful and good.

Some things are off limits.

#7 Comment By Anastasia On March 30, 2013 @ 6:13 am

The pub food at the King’s Arms isn’t half bad. And try a ham sandwich and a pint at the Eagle and Child as part of your Inklings pilgrimage.

#8 Comment By Rod Dreher On March 30, 2013 @ 7:36 am

Ah, I googled “Bodleian” and “Oxford,” and got that glorious image. I have never been inside the Bodleian, so I assumed that was it. Thanks for the correction. I’ve replaced it with Blackwell’s, an establishment I have been in.

#9 Comment By William Burns On March 30, 2013 @ 7:53 am

Blackwells is amazing–I haven’t been there in thirty years, but I remember it as the only bookstore I ever saw with a section devoted to “Patristics.”

#10 Comment By Franklin Evans On March 30, 2013 @ 9:53 am

I recommend to all, but most especially to those of us who love words, language and thinking about them at great length, [3] by Simon Winchester.

The author takes some liberties with the telling of this true story, mildly (my opinion) fictionalizing it but without offering any strain to his credibility or the reader’s access to the facts.

It starts off in a fashion that told me right away I was going to read it in one sitting — and which might tell others more hopeful of a strong pace and efficient exposition that they may need to grit their teeth — to wit: the first chapter begins with the entire entry from the OED of the word “murder”.

#11 Comment By AM Trausch On March 30, 2013 @ 12:07 pm


If you ever get the chance you should visit Trinity, though. One walks through the Long Room (which is more stunning than the pictures allow) and then end up in a dark space which holds the Book of Kells, another treasure.

#12 Comment By David On March 30, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

You can eat perfectly well in Cambridge, and I presume in Oxford too, at pretty much any college.

#13 Comment By RB On March 30, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

Seconding Franklin Evans–I enjoyed that book a great deal.

#14 Comment By Tom S On March 30, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

I would have thought that someone of your interests and beliefs would make a pilgrimage to the Eagle and Child (colloquially known as the “Bird and Baby” pub. The food is decent pub grub, but more importantly, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein used to meet there regularly to exchange book chapters and discuss the state of the world, faith, whatever….

[Note from Rod: I did. — RD]

#15 Comment By Paul Emmons On March 30, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

Ah, yes, I love both Oxford and Cambridge. I recall some fifteen years ago browsing used books in a small Oxford shop. With great delight I spotted a volume that I’d been seeking for years. Barely had I picked it off the shelf when a random friend and colleague from the U.S. walked in and hailed me from behind. It’s happened during every visit to England– maybe under the dome at St. Paul’s: a chance reunion with someone from across the Atlantic whom I may not have seen in a long time. We just make our pilgrimages to the same shrines.

#16 Comment By sal magundi On March 31, 2013 @ 12:35 am

i gave a paper at cambridge once and made a vacation out of it. i was there 7 days, it rained for 6. but heffer’s and the CUP bookshop were wonderful.

#17 Comment By James C. On March 31, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

Was in Cambridge today, a pint at my old friend the Eagle and dinner at a very good Chinese restaurant, with Evensong at Kings College Chapel (one of the best choirs in one of the best buildings in the world) sandwiched in between. Pretty glorious, all things considered—though I’m afraid the bookshops were shut!

#18 Comment By Ethan C. On April 1, 2013 @ 10:07 am

I have to agree that Cambridge is a more beautiful city — but I did get to spend three weeks at Oxford during the summer once, and it was quite glorious.

And I have indeed been inside that Blackwell’s.

#19 Comment By Rachael Watson On April 1, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

Take a walk down Iffley Road to the Magdalen Arms and you’ll find food to satisfy the crunchy con heart/belly (are they even separable?).

#20 Comment By Paul Emmons On April 2, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

I once remarked to an English friend that I thought of Princeton NJ as the American Cambridge. “Not a very nice thing to say to an Oxford man” he replied with a wink. “Ah, but the American Oxford is Yale! Feel better now?”

Beyond campus, the city of New Haven is not quite the same paradise as Oxford, and it hardly revolves around books. But I think the analogy makes some sense nevertheless.