Walking down the high street of virtually any city in the UK, since they all look pretty much the same, I never fail to be reminded that Douglas Adams was one of the most impressive future-gazers of all time. In 1979, he was inspired by a walk down Oxford St to create the planet Brontitall which had received a blast from a Shoe Shop Intensifier Ray, compelling them to build only shoe shops which sold nothing but badly made shoes.
However bad things were in 1979, Adams died before the Brontitall nightmare finally came true. As internet shopping juggernauts its way forward, it has demolished almost all the shops I liked, and now the high streets sell mainly shoes (because, I guess, people still like to try them on before they buy). These shoes are no good to me, because I have enormous square feet, like flippers, and also I am tall, so 6 inch heels make me hit my head on trees and birds and things.
So three cheers for the independent bookshops, who are trying to prove that the pen is mightier than the stiletto. This week is independent booksellers week, and you can celebrate by going to your local bookshop and picking up a beautiful pamphlet about book-collecting by Julian Barnes, or an early edition of Faber’s Poetry Diary or a fancy version of Simon Garfield’s font-fest Just My Type.
Obviously, you don’t have to buy one of these special editions, but Barnes makes a strong case for how publishers can continue to ensure we’ll want to buy real books: make them lovely things we want to pick up and buy and give as presents.
Like many people, I split my reading between paper and e-reader. If I’m reviewing a book, I want a real one, so I can tag the pages with coloured strips and find the quotes I need. If it’s a writer I love – like Barnes – I want a hardback, a beautiful object, ideally a signed one, that I can read, keep, and re-read.
But I also love thrillers, and murder mysteries, which I read like a dog scarfing biscuits: I gobble them up, two or three on a train journey. And those I now buy as e-books, because never had the space to keep them, so they always made a speedy pilgrimage from shop to shelf to charity-shop. The words are what matter, not the paper.
Independent bookshops have been squeezed by Amazon on one side, and supermarkets on the other, all able to pile Dan Browns or JK Rowlings high, and sell ‘em cheap. But this is what the indies can do that the behemoth retailers can’t – let you browse the shelves and find new writing, and sell editions that you want to own and keep. Plus, they can keep the ravening shoe hordes at bay.
Scotland is a place which takes junk food more seriously than the rest of us, as you will know if you have ever seen an Italian tourist in Edinburgh standing outside a chip shop, trying to process the idea of the deep fried pizza slice. So it seems only appropriate that a Scottish nutritionist has come up with the first nutritionally balanced pizza – ditching some of the salt by adding seaweed to the bread, adding some vegetables, and reducing the calorie count to 30% of an adult’s RDA.
70% of British adults eat pizza, apparently, which is a full 30% less than I would have guessed. And if we’re going to eat what is, essentially, fancy cheese on toast, we might as well have one that is a little bit healthy. That way, you can have one for lunch, and one for dinner.