Webometric Thoughts

September 17, 2009

On Books and the Fourth Plinth: Reactionary and off topic

Filed under: Art,Fourth Plinth,Literature,Waterstone's — admin @ 9:26 am

I love books. I love browsing them, buying them, shelving them, and (when I find the time) reading them. However pleasure from the high street bookstore (which generally means Waterstone’s) is quickly diminishing. With less stock on the floor as shops cut back in the recession, it seems as the only books available are ‘celebrity’ biographies, ‘tragic childhoods’, blockbuster novels, and quick guides which promise to make you an authority on any topic with little effort. At times like this you can’t help but despair at the reading public and be grateful for second-hand bookshops.

Today, in theory, the UK’s population is more educated than ever. Although would anyone really guess it from the books the read? Or worse still, some of the people who sit on the fourth plinth?

Sitting eating a bag of crisps and chatting to a group of girls is not art, it’s called being a bloke.

It is not impossible for a relatively small bookshop to house a decent collection of books. The London Review Bookshop is a great example. It has no more floor space than the average small town Waterstone’s, it just sells a lot less crap. Unfortunately chains have little idealism when it comes to the selling of books, they merely want to shift stock. Not only is a weighty tome on medieval history less likely to sell, but it will take far longer to read. No such problem with a Dan Brown page-turner.

Hopefully things will change, the Waterstone’s business model of little added benefit from there being a bookshop cannot be sustainable in the Internet age. I’ve just enjoyed Under Siege: Literary Life In London 1939-45, which I picked up in the secondhand bookshop at Samuel Johnson’s birthplace museum (always reasonably priced). Not only an interesting discussion of the state of literature and the arts generally in the UK in the second world war, but a reminder that the current state of the book trade is not irreversible (albeit it faces very different problems).


  1. While were all no doubt off to hell in a handcart, I'm not sure your take on Gormley's plinth project is quite on track.

    In fact his democratisation of the space (albeit to self-selecting participants) is the artwork — what people individually do when they're up there isn't intended to be art, well not by Gormley anyway.

    That he's got people talking about the nature of society is worth more than the well-trod "is this art" debate.

    Comment by jonbounds — September 17, 2009 @ 11:28 am

  2. That "is this art" is a well-trod debate by no means an indication of an acceptable conclusion.

    Whilst I can recognise that the art is based around Gormley's idea/perspective, what we actually see is primarily narcissists on a plinth in the centre of London. This tells us as much about society as Big Brother; a contrived vision of society by the media savvy/obsessed…And as for democratisation, in what way is the loss of public space in the square, due to the tyranny of the few (there's a lot of crap that goes on around the plinth), a democratisation of space?

    Yours respectfully
    Disgruntled/disgusted of Tunbridge Wells!

    Comment by David — September 17, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

  3. I strongly agree with your post. I love going to bookshops and discovering books, buying them and sometimes, as you said, if a have enough time, reading them. It is a pleasure but also a kind of ethical resolution to extend my knowledge and spirit.

    Here in UK I have noticed that mainstreet is dominated by Borders, Waterstones and maybe some other chain that I don't remember. I still enjoy visiting these places but it is discouraging to notice that everything inside is domesticated experience. There is no surprise. Same book, same order, same decoration. I strive to think that books remain fascinating when you reading despite the lack of interest in the process of meeting them.

    Second hand books are a haven nowadays. Maybe always.

    One year ago in a second half bookshop that was selling books in the street in Denia (Alicante), I found an amazing treasure. This book that was censored in the US:

    By Julio Cortazar, one of the greatest Argentinian writers. They had like 10 first edition books (year 1975) only at 10 euros each. I took all of them. I was so happy.

    The most interesting think about this book is that was written to promote the Verdict of the second Russell Tribunal to condemn US politics in South and Central America in the seventies.

    Comment by Esteban — October 12, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

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