This happens to be Independent Booksellers' Week, but I don't need that or any other excuse to visit a bookshop, so when I was in Oxford I went, of course, to Blackwell's, and there I bought two books of local interest:
Penelope Lively's The House on Norham Gardens is set in North Oxford, and is described by Philip Pullman as "one of the best books by one of the best writers for children." It begins by describing the location:
"... As you go south [the houses] are growing. Getting higher and odder. By the time you get to Norham Gardens they have tottered over the edge into madness: these are not houses but flights of fancy. They are three stories high and disguise themselves as churches. They have ecclesiastical porches instead of front doors and round norman windows or pointed gothic ones, neatly grouped in threes with flaring brick to set them off. They reek of hymns and the Empire, Mafeking and the Khyber Pass, Mr. Gladstone and Our Dear Queen. They have nineteen rooms and half a dozen chimneys and iron fire escapes. A bomb couldn't blow them up, and the privet in their gardens has survived two World Wars.
People live in these houses. Clare Mayfield, aged fourteen, raised by aunts in North Oxford."
My second purchase is non-fiction, Chiang Yee's The Silent Traveller in Oxford:
"In 1940 the Chinese writer Chiang Yee arrived in Oxford as a refugee from the London Blitz, his lodgings having been bombed. He came to Oxford, he writes, "in rather a turmoil". What was meant to be a brief escape turned into a five-year stay, an affectionate relationship with the city, and the fifth in the hugely successful "Silent Traveller" series. Looking at the city and its historic university with the curiosity and openness of a complete stranger, Chiang Yee paints a revealing picture of Oxford's particular atmosphere, its rituals and traditions. He mixes with undergraduates and dons, visits pubs and restaurants, witnesses Union debates and punting on the river, all with a gentle astonishment and perceptive eye for detail. Chiang Yee explores the colleges and other student haunts, but also the city and its surrounds, from Port Meadow to Headington and Hinksey. First published in 1944, The Silent Traveller in Oxford evokes a wartime city of shortages and blackouts. It also captures an earlier age of university life, when students drank sherry and scaled college walls to escape prowling Bulldogs. Throughout Chiang Yee draws parallels between Oxford and his native China, comparing the seasons, architecture, and the nature of learning itself. Illustrated with the author's own sketches, this book is both an atmospheric account of 1940s Oxford and a charming "Oriental" view of one of Britain's best loved cities."