London and Terror
Morning call

QI

This is a bookshop designed for browsing. The shelves don't follow the usual classifications. Instead they collect books together thematically, so a novel or biography might end up next to a work of popular science, or a reference book. The selection criteria are simple: they are either the best books on a subject or a book one of us feels strongly about recommending. The selection and the categories are designed to stimulate thought and discussion. …

'Besides the libraries of Radcliffe and Bodley and the Colleges, there have been of late years many libraries founded in our coffee houses … in these instruction and pleasure go hand in hand; and we may pronounce, in a literal sense, that learning no longer remains a dry pursuit.' Thomas Warton (1728–1790)

So runs the card that you can pick up at the QI bookshop (16 Turl Street, Oxford OX1 3DH). A number of friends have asked me about QI and I said I'd post a few notes, beginning with the bookshop. Last time I was there I took a few photos and the one I'd intended to serve as illustration of the unusual classification system only gives a suggestion of what it's like to browse shelves where books are grouped by themes: Informed Rants, Obsession, Revenge, Desire, Betrayal, Addiction, Experience, Innocence, First Love, Last Love … It's a great bookshop, with personality, run by Claudia FitzHerbert and her small team of enthusiastic, informed and intellectually alive assistants. Support it! Oxford has many bookshops already — but this one is different. We have thousands of books at home and yet this is a place where I am always discovering new authors, new books … new ideas to follow up — not least through chatting with Claudia and her team.

There's also a QI bar behind the bookshop. It's a cosy place for a drink with friends, relaxed and very sociable. It serves food and coffee, too, throughout opening hours. Upstairs is the club: this is private — members only. But it's the only club I've come across that I feel I'd like to join: two elegant Georgian rooms to relax in with drinks, light food and coffee always available, and a dining room and library where lunch and dinner is served every day. Taken with the bookshop and bar, it offers 'an eclectic mix of people, a place to meet, talk, shop, eat and drink in the centre of Oxford. It's a new version of the salon or the coffee house: a place you pop into regularly to buy books, read the paper, eat lunch, celebrate, argue, escape the office and listen to, or start conversations with, other quite interesting people.'

QI. Quite interesting. (Common code: 01865. Bookshop: 261507. Bar: 261508. Club: 261500.)

*****

Updates

(1) this from Claudia FitzHerbert's column in the Daily Telegraph, 9 August:

Dons don't come into my shop, much. Michael Gearin-Tosh, who died last week, was an exception. A distinguished English tutor at St Catherine's, who acquired a wider audience with Living Proof (2002) - an account of his long (and, for a long time, startlingly successful) battle against myeloma and conventional medicine - he was an irregular regular. On his first visit, I tried to pick his brains over which editions of Chekhov to stock, and where to put them. Chekhov, a doctor as well as a dramatist, saw a "dull-wittedness and tyranny" in medicine which he compared to Tsarist police. His genius hovers over Living Proof.

Gearin-Tosh seemed to get the shop categories at once. "He would," said my Fellow fellow, when I put it to him that a scholar had been in the shop and not fainted in disgust. "Contradiction and creative disorder are at the heart of Gearin-Tosh's talent. Your shop is just the retail version of his room in college." He said he'd think about the Chekhov before responding with feline courtesy to the placing of Living Proof. I don't think he was overly pleased to find it in Informed Rants, wedged in between Francis Wheen on mumbo-jumbo and Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication. He would, I think, have preferred to be in The Big Picture, along with War and Peace and The Selfish Gene.

(2) jinty (livejournal):

Harry Potter is filed under Revenge, and the assistant, Thomasz, spoke interestingly of how one particular book had been placed by him under one category -- let's say Desire -- but then consistently moved by someone else to another category -- let's assume Ha Ha. In the end Thomasz moved it to Turbulence.

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