In the culture I grew up alongside (I’m only half-English, so only half-inside; in fact, probably even less than half: my wife and children are Spanish, so there’s a third culture to love), there was always a surfeit of content to be bought and read.
We called them books when I grew up: books, magazines (remember magazines? In particular, the specialist ones; the hobbyist ones; the clever ones; the crazy and wild …); and then there were newspapers too – especially the Sunday newspapers.
What a luxury, spread out like a picnic blanket in a meadow of grand grace – but in this case the meadow happened to be one’s living-room, and you’d find yourself sitting on as much of the sofa as you could grab.
All the different sections that overcame one’s resolve to finish before lunch.
Many a roast burnt due to the Observer, incompletely read.
Many a lunch late because the next section, the one kept lovingly to the last, just had to be read before the potatoes could be rescued.
Clive James. Katherine Whitehorn. Am I right in remembering these names?
Not any more, of course; now, it’s all “content”. Streamed, licensed, electronic, virtual … always at one’s fingertips, never in one’s hands; no longer piling up forgotten, though not unloved, on a dusty bottom shelf or in those shabby but never discarded cardboard boxes we’d nick from the local super.
Then I moved to Spain, and goodness me – how I loved the quioscos: the often sizeable brown huts of aluminium construction; dotted around the city streets with their splaying-out doors; laden with editorial product as far as the eye could see.
And the eye could see.
That was the real grandness of it all.
Last time I was in Spain, so many of them shut down, for sale, no longer displaying their wares; no longer pushing those eternal book collections.
So sad it was, for me anyway. A passing of an age.
Two countries, that was, where I lived and came to love the whole idea and industry of flogging books.
Nowadays, some societies prefer – instead – to flog bloggers.
I’m not sure that this instinct in certain mediated ways – the instinct to instil fear into communicators at all levels and of all skills, I mean – won’t become more common.
Thankfully, the British state doesn’t sanction the use of corporal punishment against its subjects. I sincerely hope it won’t in the future either.
But what I can say – without fear of equivocating a reality that’s getting more and more complex to triangulate as time goes by – runs … well … as follows: I much preferred the time when what made the news was publishers flogging books.
And those are the times – together – we must get back to.