Books: A week in books

Not too long ago, Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow was better known for eructation than erudition. Now, thanks to Waterstone's, it boasts Britain's smartest (and most sybaritic) bookshop. Lolling on the sofas and trawling data from the in-store database at the inaugural bash, I recalled fruitless teenage Saturdays among the Kafkaesque print canyons of Foyles - that grim warehouse with all the charm and flair of the Novosibirsk Tractor Supplies Depot, circa 1935.

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).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

    Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

    Day In a Page

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public