Stephanie Rojas: Getting to know Blackwell’s Oxford

Blackwell'sWalking down the stairs to the basement level of Blackwell’s Oxford, I did not immediately notice the cavernous room I had entered. As Sales Manager David Kelly described the history of the store to PUP Publicist Katie Lewis and me, I was engrossed in taking notes on my phone for a potential blog post. Typing as I walked, I finally looked up just as David was telling us that there is a total of three miles of shelving crammed into that one floor of the multi-level store!   

This year, I was privileged to have the opportunity to travel to the UK to attend the London Book Fair and to visit the Princeton University Press office in Woodstock, Oxfordshire in my role as Marketing & Social Media Associate. Thanks to my colleague Katie, I was excited to also be able to take a tour of Blackwell’s, PUP’s largest UK account, while I was in the area. Blackwell’s flagship location was not always as physically arresting as it is today. Opening its doors in 1879, the bookshop was about the size of a decent walk-in closet. Standing in the space, I imagined books piled high, partially blocking out the sunlight from the front windows, with floorboards creaking beneath my feet. The Blackwell family’s aim was to open a book store that catered not only to the many students who make their temporary home in and around Oxford, but also to the town residents. Today, that original space serves as an inviting entryway to rooms lined floor to ceiling with books. 

Blackwell's

The Atlas of Ancient Rome by Andrea Carandini. It’s always exciting to see a PUP book out in the wild!

Blackwell’s has an excellent reputation for stocking academic books; indeed, it is part of the philosophy of the store to stock every important book within a given field—rather than the one or two that might be bestsellers—because it is vital for readers to have access to the selection of different viewpoints and ideas. Blackwell’s is able to maintain that standard due to their online presence; in fact, they were the first bookshop to sell online (even though they readily admit that it was not executed as well as it could have been—they have come a long way in the intervening years!). But I was surprised to learn that Blackwell’s is also a leader in fiction—their sales in fiction have actually grown at double the rate of the industry for the past four years.

Blackwell’s is more than a bookstore; it is also a community hub. When I was there, they were in the middle of a sold out run of Dracula put on by Creation Theatre. They host an event nearly every Saturday, including a monthly series called Philosophy in the Bookshop in collaboration with British  philosopher and host of the Philosophy Bytes podcast Nigel Warburton. It seemed to me that there is always something interesting going on. 

My trip to Blackwell’s was certainly a highlight in a great week in the UK, and I hope I have the opportunity to visit again!

Katherine Freese, author of “The Cosmic Cocktail,” at the Royal Astronomical Society

Freese RAS talk

Katherine Freese speaking at the Royal Astronomical Society

Only 5 percent of all matter and energy in the cosmos (think plants, animals, planets, the air we breathe) is made up of ordinary atoms. The rest is known as dark matter—it cannot be seen with telescopes, and its precise identity remains unknown. The Cosmic Cocktail is the inside story of the epic quest to identify dark matter and learn what the universe is made of, told by one of today’s foremost pioneers in the study of dark matter, acclaimed theoretical physicist Katherine Freese. Neil deGrasse Tyson calls the book “a gripping first person account of her life as a cosmologist…Part memoir, part tutorial, part social commentary.” It’s the perfect detective story for science geeks.

Freese post-talk

Post-event drinks at the Royal Astronomical Society

This week, Katherine Freese is in the UK talking about her research and the book. On April 8, she gave a talk at the Royal Astronomical Society and then recorded The Forum on the BBC World Service, which was presented by science journalist Quentin Cooper and will be broadcast and available to listen to online later this month.

Freese and Quinton Cooper

Freese and Quentin Cooper

Don’t miss Freese’s upcoming speaking engagements: On April 15th, Freese and PUP author Jacqueline Mitton will be participating in Edinburgh International Science Festival and on April 16th Freese will be speaking at Blackwell’s in Oxford. Freese will be a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour on April 17th. On May 26th, she will be speaking at Hay Festival, a philosophy and music festival in Hay-on-Wye, (one of the biggest literary festivals in the UK, which was described by Bill Clinton in 2001 as “The Woodstock of the mind”).

Freese recording The Forum at BBC

Freese recording at BBC Broadcasting House