My second venture into Oxford within months of the first was an entirely different walk through the town. It fascinates me that schools grew out of monasteries, that colleges were frequently funded by men with guilty consciences (I suppose I don’t know how many began, but the ones we got stories on were). Schools frequently found funding through religious ties.

One of the ties that still connects through to today are the rituals. Exams are still taken in robes, there are still formal school dinners with a Latin prayer, and the buildings are mostly ones that have housed students for centuries. The rituals all seem to hold a formal element that matches the stately buildings. It’s interesting to notice when this comes through in literature, such as the feeling of first years at Hogwarts for the Sorting Ritual. Terry Pratchett, a British novelist, often satirizes this sort of formality, with his Londonesque University centering around the faculty practically worshiping dinner. Of course a university town gets you thinking about your own schooling, and since I’m working toward an English degree, Blackwell’s was an excellent place to visit.

This time around I was prepared for Blackwell’s. In March I was set so aflutter that I ended up spending about $150 on books. I’ve read 3 or 4 of those, but a couple of the really dense ones are still sitting on my desk, waiting for the right time to be read. So I told myself I could maybe buy one or two books but they had to be carefully considered and worthy of purchase. After resisting the temptations of the vast fiction section by limiting how many books I could pick up and pore through, I found 2 books to get. Both of which came out of the literary criticism section.

The lit crit section in the Borders in Overland Park, Kansas took up maybe two shelves, holding not much of anything. Blackwell’s has an entire wall dedicated to relevant works on literary theory and thought. I left both feeling proud at my restraint and wistful that I hadn’t broken my resolution. If more college towns could support bookstores like that, I wouldn’t be as worried about our culture’s attitude toward reading.

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