The power of print

<p>It's interesting how two non-events in the publishing world have recently made headlines.<br />
In Florida, Pastor Terry Jones did not in the end burn any &shy;copies of the Koran. While 10,000 miles away, in Piccadilly &shy;Circus, Tony Blair did not turn up to sign copies of his memoir, <i>A Journey</i>, to save the public and the police &quot;a lot of hassle&quot;.</p>
<p>It's hard to say which of these two individuals I would less want to be stuck in a lift with. The pastor might have a name out of Monty Python but there was nothing funny about his threat and it's shocking how one deranged non-entity can now inform the world news. Headlines, cartoons, leader columns, phone-calls from generals and presidents. And yet his church had just 50 full-time members!</p>
<p>As for Blair, 25% of the country apparently believe that he should be indicted for war crimes and I'm still amazed that anyone should be interested in his self-serving and strangely written memoirs. I have mentioned this before but politicians don't seem to notice that when they're gone . . . they're gone. You might notice that Peter Mandelson has already dropped out of <i>The Bookseller</i>'s Top 50 list; evidently <i>The Third Man</i> didn't have quite the lasting power of, say, Stieg Larsson. It's actually quite a rare animal (Clarke, Crossman, Mullin) who produces a political book of any lasting worth.</p>
<p>That said, I was sorry that the signing didn't happen. Iain Banks, John Pilger and others had tried to persuade Waterstone's to cancel the event, stating it would &quot;seriously harm its own reputation as a respectable bookseller&quot;. I'm almost phobic in my dislike of Blair but I still think that writers trying to ban other writers is unhealthy and odd. And celebrity signings can only help the trade in these difficult times.</p>
<p>It seems to me that these two, unconnected non-events &shy;actually tell us quite a lot about the way we're heading.</p>
<p>First, 24-hour news and the internet have combined to give individual protesters powers that are disproportionate and dangerous. There was a time when a bug-eyed fanatic (Jones, not Blair) would not have dominated world news and when the mere threat of a demonstration would not cause an event to be cancelled.</p>
<p>But the wider lesson is a more salutary one for those of us in the publishing business and goes all the way back to 10th May 1933. That was when 25,000 &quot;non-German&quot; books were burned in a mass demonstration organised by the Nazis. The fact is that even today, if you want a symbol of everything that is civilised, everything that goes to the heart of humanity, you still need to look no further than a book.<br />
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