I paid a visit to the excellent Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green recently. The owners put out an appeal to everyone to buy an extra book from the shop to help them survive and pay off their bank loan. So I went along, and bought a couple of books, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes and Caribou Island by David Vann.
It was the first time I’d been there in ages, because I always used to go to Prospero’s Books in Crouch End until it closed down over Christmas. This made me realise that I hadn’t bought a single book since Christmas. And, thinking back, I couldn’t remember buying too many in the last days of Prospero’s either. This surprised me, as I have always bought books pretty regularly throughout my life – in fact I generally buy books faster than I read them, ending up with piles of unread books on my shelves.
It’s not that I haven’t been reading lately – I’ve been getting through about a book a week all year. It’s that I’ve been borrowing a lot from the library, getting free review copies from publishers, and reading through the aforementioned backlog of books on my shelves. Before my visit to the Big Green Bookshop, I hadn’t bought a book in a long time.
Then I started thinking about the government’s recent attacks on funding for the arts. The Arts Council’s budget is to be cut by 15%, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council is being abolished, libraries all over the country are closing, the UK Film Council is being abolished, etc etc. I am as outraged as many other people, and have signed the petitions and written the blog posts and everything else. But then I realised I am doing the same thing as the government. My finances are stretched, money is tight, future income is uncertain. So I stop buying books. Not consciously, but instinctively. I could save a lot more money by tackling the big expenses – for example, moving to a smaller place and saving hundreds of pounds a month on rent. But that would be difficult. It would mean reevaluating my life, admitting to mistakes. Better to just stop buying books and save ten or twenty quid a month instead. It’s the same logic that the government uses when it saves a few million on cutting library funding and continues to throw away billions on the pointless nuclear dick extension known as Trident.
The impact on my life has so far been minimal. I’ve missed out on a few new books, but I’ve got plenty on my shelves and can supplement from the library. Similarly the impact of the government’s cutbacks on the arts will not be felt immediately. The arts are not critical in the same way as hospitals and fire stations. Books are not critical in the same way as paying the rent. But their loss will be felt sooner or later. Life gets poorer in so many ways.
So can I honestly criticise the Coalition Government for its short-termism, when I have been following the same logic as David Cameron in my own miniature economy?
Of course I can, and I will. But I will do so with self-knowledge, and with renewed determination to hold myself to the same standards as I demand of the PM. After all, behaving with more integrity than David Cameron really shouldn’t be too tough.