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
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
The secret to a great sex life revealed: Two cups of coffee a day
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
Teenager tries to buy elderly homeless man breakfast at McDonald's but is told homeless people cannot be served under 'new policy'
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
- 1 Isis 'jihadi bride' claims forced sex with Yazidi girls is never rape because Koran condones it
- 2 Art Garfunkel calls Paul Simon a 'monster' with a Napoleon complex
- 3 Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie
- 4 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 5 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...