Browsing the bookshop shelf is more rewarding than surfing souless sites

 

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The next time you spot a book you have been meaning to read for ages nestling among the items conveniently suggested to you by your friendly giant online retailer, pause before you hit “one-click ordering”. There is something soulless about the process, a commercial transaction untouched by human emotion.

How much more rewarding to stroll into an independent bookstore, each as individual as its owner, in search of the latest John Le Carre, only to stroll out instead with a biography of Churchill, a compendium of crosswords, a present for your partner, and, possibly, a little bit of gossip about what the vicar told the council officer when they were in the shop last week.

Last week “super-Thursday” in the book world – the day when major publishers launch what they hope will be their big Christmas blockbusters. New books by John Cleese, Jacqueline Wilson, and Heston Blumenthal will crowd the windows of bookshops across the county. The promotion will give a much appreciated shot in the arm to beleaguered booksellers.

Sales nationwide dropped by £98 million or 6.5% last year but the rate of the decline is slowing, according to experts. Super Thursday generated sales of £34.7 million and this year booksellers are hoping for more of the same.

But beyond the once-a-year hype, entrepreneurial booksellers are showing what can be done to drum up sales. In Hove, City Books, founded and run by Paul and Inge Sweetman, is a beacon of civilisation on Western Road. Its imaginative events programme has attracted a raft of well-known authors to talk about their works. This season will see appearances by Will Self, John Lydon, Claire Balding and the Reverend Richard Coles, among others.

Events such as these foster the sense of community and help to bring the books alive in a way that the online behemoths never can.

It’s a myth that bookish people are loners – as the mushrooming of book clubs has shown.

Shut down that computer and head off to your nearest independent bookshop – you never know where that journey might take you.

 

This piece was first published in The Argus on October 12, 2014

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Why calls for an boycott of Israel do a disservice to Palestinians

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Noam Chomsky is not a household name in the United Kingdom. He is an expert in abstruse linguistic theory and has produced well-regarded academic works in cognitive science and artificial intelligence.

Among  international left-wing activists he is admired as a trenchant critic of the foreign policies of the United States and Israel.

In July, he published a surprising essay in The Nation magazine in which he took issue with the tactics of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. He believes comparisons between Israel and the apartheid state of South Africa are misleading and self-defeating.

He wrote: “Failed initiatives harm the victims doubly—by shifting attention from their plight to irrelevant issues (anti-Semitism at Harvard, academic freedom, etc.), and by wasting current opportunities to do something meaningful.”

It is doubtful that Professor Chomsky has heard of Councillor Ben Duncan who represents the Queen’s Park area in Brighton, but his words are a perfect description of Cll Duncan’s call for the city council to join the international boycott of Israeli firms.

Council officials moved quickly to thwart any debate of his motion but Cllr Duncan has vowed to fight back. It is difficult to see this as anything other than gesture politics.

According to a reply to my Freedom of |Information request, which I received this week, Brighton and Hove City Council keeps no record of where the firms it does business with are headquartered.

The leader of the Green Party administration at the council, Cllr Jason Kitcat, said:”Ownership is fluid, complex and can change. Our ethical and sustainable procurement policies do put stringent requirements on bidders though.”

A spokesman for the city council said: “As far as I’m aware, the vast  majority of our council contracts are with British firms. The question of whether any of them ‘have links and affiliations with companies in Israel’ does not arise during a tender process or as part of our financial checks. Therefore we have no information on this.”

A list of the city’s contracts and  contractors can be seen here