catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 3 :: 2012.02.03 — 2012.02.16


Oxford pilgrimage

This past summer, I spent several days in Oxford, England.  The whole trip was centered around books, and I took a class about Jane Austen at Oxford to set the tone. Did you know that the first book was printed in Oxford in 1478?  I could write about books forever, especially what I found in Oxford. When you think about the form of communication we have in writing and mass publishing, it really is incredible. This is part of the reason I enjoyed Oxford so much. I would never run out of good books to read because the town has countless bookstores to explore and the grandest library in all the world. I need books like I need to breathe.

I could have spent all day in Blackwell Books. This store, on Broad Street, sits across from the Bodleian Library and has five floors of books! I started on the bottom floor. This one room basement, called the Norrington Room, is the largest single room of books in all of Europe! I found an armful of books just down there. Then, I traveled to the other floors and found many more. Being that all my favorite authors are British, they had many books I can never find in the States!

The Oxford University Press is the largest university press in the world. Their bookstore on High Street has three or four floors of books, but all I needed was the “Oxford World Classics” section, where, again, I could find books by my favorite authors that are so hard to find here.

Just a few steps away from the Bodleian Library shop was an exhibit for the King James Bible. 2011 was the 400 year anniversary of the KJB, the authorized translation into English, and the Bodleian took the opportunity to display not only one of the few surviving original King James Bibles printed in 1611, but also many other precious Bibles from as far back as 1000 A.D. Taking a peak into these books was truly special. Not many people get to see them.

If all of these other places were test laps, the Bodleian Library was the big event for me.  Anyone can appreciate this library, affectionately known as “The Bod” to the locals, even if only for the history, architecture and grand feeling of the place. They claim to have every book ever published here. For me, it awed that deep, nerdy, book lover that I am as I stepped into Duke Humphrey’s Library, the oldest part of the Bodleian Library dating from 1488. The scent of old books drifted to me as I entered and looked around at the floor to ceiling bookshelves (the first of their kind in Britain, by the way). I couldn’t take photos in this area, so I had to memorize the sights. We toured the library on a Sunday, and since the library was closed, we were able to walk through an entire section of the working library where tours are not normally allowed. Walking by rows of thick oak shelves full of books that looked like they belonged in a museum behind glass, it was so easy to imagine myself a student here, with access to this place at any time. Where students have the ability to look at books that are hundreds of years old is a place I want to be.

Downstairs is the Divinity School, which has no books, but was the site of lectures. C.S. Lewis described it as “the most beautiful room in Oxford.” I took photos in this room, eyeing the exquisitely detailed ceiling with ornate carvings and Biblical symbols all over the place. This room also dates back to 1488 when it was completed.

I don’t know what it is about being in the presence of 15th century architecture, books and furniture that intrigues me so much. Perhaps in part, I am awed because our country is so young and there is nothing like this in America. Also, many of my favorite authors studied, taught and lived in Oxford, so I knew I was treading on their footsteps and that is thrilling to me. Call me a nerd; I am okay with that.

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