Wednesday, August 10, 2011

No Book Burning in These Riots

Have you read a good book lately?

Being the guardians of an illustrious literary past, the British as a people generally love their books, and quaint bookshops help characterize villages and neighborhoods across the sceptered isle.

Yet today's England isn't what it used to be, for which many Anglophiles blame American pop culture. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that bookstores in England have emerged relatively unscathed from the country's burst of rioting this week. Electronics stores, clothing stores, and even a Sony distribution center have been looted and burned, but only about two bookstores have even had their windows smashed.

And even then, few books - if any - have been reported missing.

Now, I can't claim to be an avid book reader myself. The last book I read cover to cover was Meryl Gordon's Mrs. Astor Regrets last year, about the life and times of the late New York philanthropist Brooke Astor. And I didn't even buy it - my mother had, during the society trial of Astor's son, Anthony Marshall.

I haven't been able to concentrate on literary fiction for years, so what I do read mostly involves history, current events, biographies, or other forms of non-fiction.  To me, real life can be far more fascinating than what publishing houses think makes for creative storytelling.  When I do read a book, a book which captures my mental attention (which is a feat all in itself), I like reminding myself that what I'm reading about actually took place to actual people, even if the events themselves run the gamut from World War atrocities to the first rough-hewn settlements around what became New York Harbor.

But then again, I suppose the marauding gangs of thugs smashing windows, looting stores, and burning cars these past few days across England have little interest in the Holocaust or New Amsterdam.  Considering that England's stilted economic disparities may have fueled some of the violence we've been witnessing, looters and arsonists likely care little about who Brooke Astor was, or how many millions of dollars she spent on inner-city investments across the Big Apple.

After all, if angst over Britain's economic disparities has helped spark the recent violence, it can't be unfair to blame low education levels among wide swaths of impoverished British citizens.  While it may be one thing for an average middle-class wage-earner to ever hope to afford even a hovel in London, plenty of disillusioned taxpayers have resigned themselves to schlepping into town from more affordable suburbs without resorting to crime and mayhem.  They've been able to figure out other ways of validating their relatively humble lifestyles other than measuring their worth against the denizens of Knightsbridge and Mayfair.  I wouldn't be surprised that some of Britain's lower-paid workers even turn to books to at least read about lifestyles they can't afford, indulging in some literary flights of fancy, although it may not truly be an adequate substitute.

So for those people, if they need one, finding a new flat-screen television might prove to be a bit difficult in the next few days, as electronics retailers fix their stores and receive replacement inventory. But the lack of damage to Britain's bookstores should at least provide some solace to England's many literary-minded citizens who still love to read. And probably don't watch TV all the time anyway.

Who says looters can't be a considerate lot?
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1 comment:

  1. Well, in the U.S. the number of brick-and-mortar book stores is dwindling. No doubt in Britain, electronics stores far outnumber bookstores to start with (as they do here) and the costs and status symbolism of smart phones, HD TV's, laptops and the like outpace books. Just another possibility.

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