For those who may have missed it—or were perhaps stuck in a book—the England football team beat the Colombian football XI to progress through to the quarter-finals of the Russia-based World Cup. Actually, I’m joking, you won’t have missed it—in finally winning a World Cup penalty shootout, the media (print, broadcast, digital and social) has given itself over to the footy.
But let’s not be churlish. A good news story is well-deserved for a country still beating itself up for the Brexit vote and only recently stumbling out of recession. In times past, the celebrations would have heralded increased spending (and not just on booze and fags), and a renewed sense of optimism. The UK Prime Minister Theresa May, must be delighted—not least with the distraction.
So, let’s not be churlish. Football (and other sports) infiltrate the news agenda even when we do not do well, so we can hardly complain when we sally forth into the later rounds of a tournament that, lest we forget, we have not won since 1966. Neither should we hold it against our national media—run, as it mostly appears to be, by men of a certain age—that their pages, and the airwaves they preside over, will now become dominated by a low kind of jingoistic triumphalism—as if in doing well, we must also find fault with others.
So, again, let’s not be churlish. Instead, let’s figure out how books benefit from this—and I don’t just mean the football annuals, the sticker books and the memorabilia that are doubtless now in production. What I really mean is, let’s have a think about how we make the national conversation—so often about sport, politics or the weather—sometimes also about books. Because there are big, shape-shifting things happening over here—many of them unreported, most of them under-discussed. From author earnings, to copyright, to piracy, to the weaponising of social media. The ability of authors to be authors (to express themselves fearlessly and with some economic certainty) seems to me to be under grave threat. Our once-great library service (about which more next week) continues to face cut after cut after cut, its very professionalism hollowed out. And the high street, indeed the very essence of how we shop and meet, remains under gradual and insidious erosion as stubborn landlords and an ossified government allow the twin bullies of rent and rates to drive shops out of town.
When Bluemoose founder Kevin Duffy complains that the London-based media ignored this year’s Walter Scott Prize he is surely right to do so. But his reasoning may be wrong—books, though they underpin so much other media, rarely make it to the top of the news pile.
At the Bradford Literature Festival this week, I saw a city come together over a love of books and literary discussion, with authors tackling subjects as diverse as Islam, the Brontës and Daoism. Yet, when does the country ever get together to celebrate its great authors, its magnificent books and the trade that crafts them? When do we spark it?
Football may be coming home (and hurrah, if so), but the books never left.