Books: A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
Saturday 04 October 1997
The launch of Waterstone's spanking new flagship (on five floors, with 350,000 volumes and two cafes) stirred many smug thoughts about how bookselling - and Glasgow - have changed. The stacks beckoned with their come-hither classifications such as "Nudes" or "Drink" until "Walking and Climbing" reminded you of a sterner local tradition.
Then, like Jacob Marley's clanking ghost, a spectre from the city's past arose in the shape of Lord Provost Pat Lally, decked out in his chains of office. Now suspended from the Labour group for his alleged part in Glasgow's votes-for-jaunts scandal, the uncrushable Lally prompts some colourful comparisons in the West of Scotland. Admirers speak of Houdini; detractors mention Dracula.
So what has Britain's most granitic municipal capo got to do with upmarket book retailing? The answer turns on the shifting boundary between the public and private realms. From the late 1980s, Lally and his crew made Glasgow seductive to incomers at the cost (so critics say) of downgrading local services. And what Waterstone's de luxe emporium brings to mind is nothing so much as some postwar Fabian planner's dream of the perfect public library.
For what the welfare state once gave, we now turn to benevolent businesses. Not very coincidentally, the Audit Commission has just confirmed in a new report that actual libraries have seen sharp falls in book issues, staff numbers and opening hours. Year after year of vicious cuts - imposed by all parties - have plunged the sector into a cycle of decline. Yet when councils do decide to fund them adequately, the results - with sleek modern complexes on prime sites in urban centres such as Croydon and Birmingham - can match the grandest chain stores for style and service.
But the broad picture reveals a slow descent into shabbiness and marginality. Retail culture gleams and smiles; its ugly tax-funded sister peels and scowls. History shows that state provision decays into a slummy backwater when people who have a choice forsake it for a slicker private space. In many areas, libraries have all but reached that stage. For proof of what happens after that, spend some time in any US public hospital (although not even Glasgow Labour Party would wish that fate on their worst enemies).
Life & Style blogs
Google Maps hides image of Android robot urinating on Apple in surprisingly insolent Easter egg
KickassTorrents down: new Isle of Man domain taken offline just hours after launch
Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Migrant crisis: Greek soldier saved 20 people singlehandedly off Rhodes beach
- 3 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 4 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 5 UK weather: Britain braced for snow to replace sun as arctic air mass moves in
£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They pride themselves that they...
£19000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This pharmacy group are looking...
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This design and print company a...
£38000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...