Rioters in London apparently ignored the local bookshop. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA
So rioters shunned bookshops because they didn’t offer anything they wanted? That points to a debilitating exclusion from a civilised culture.
By Deborah Orr
In the immediate wake of the riots, much was made of a particularly telling detail of the huge disturbance that took place in London’s Clapham Junction. Nearly all of the shops on that stretch of road were attacked. Many were broken into. Some were stripped bare. A shop that sold party accessories and donated part of its profit each year to worldwide children’s charities was set ablaze and gutted. One shop, however, was untouched – a bookshop.
Simon, the manager of Black’s, the camping shop across the road, told the London Evening Standard’s David Cohen: “They smashed our window, ripped the plasma TVs off our walls, took all our jackets and rucksacks. I saw them go into Claire’s Accessories, break into NatWest, liberate our neighbours Toni & Guy of hair products. They carted off iPods from Currys, clothes from Debenhams, mobile phones from Carphone Warehouse. I was horrified. But Waterstone’s, directly opposite us, was untouched. For the looters it was as if it did not exist.”
At the time, I thought that this observation was bang-on. Because I never use betting shops, or print shops, I simply don’t see them. Bookshops, I always notice, because I love reading. Bookies are a different matter, because I never go into one and place a bet.
Those rioters at Clapham Junction, to generalise, probably didn’t even see Waterstone’s. Bookshops don’t even register, because they offer nothing that is wanted. To me, that seems like a miserable omission from a life, and an ignominious, debilitating exclusion from a civilised culture.
On Twitter, however, a comment suggesting that if the rioters had nicked a few books they “might learn something” was retweeted time and time again, for days, as if it was the acme of wit. There seemed to be little understanding that the tweet was cruel, superior, patronising; that it mocked the afflicted and blamed the victims of an education system that left swaths of people not just unable to read, but unable even to register the existence of a shop that sold literature. Failure on that scale is not individual. It is systemic.