On Monday night, we had dinner with my parents, who were in London for an event on Tuesday. We met near London Bridge, so I was able to take a relaxed evening walk along the Thames to get there.
Someone came to install the new smart gas and electricity meters on Tuesday. It took much longer and worked much less well than I’d hoped. The installer had to use a brand new mobile application produced by the electricity company to perform the installation and to prove that he’d done it. There were many teething problems, but the most significant was the fact that the app wouldn’t let him enter the number of the new meter he had just installed, because it said that it wasn’t on the van. In the end, he had to give up, and the result is that our meter isn’t properly registered. I was stuck inside all day until 7 on a rare mild and sunny November day, and we still don’t have smart meters that are actually smart. At least all that remains is bureaucratic, rather than requiring physical installation.
I saw on Sunday night that Paul Lynch’s Prophet Song won the Booker Prize. I read it earlier in the week, and it’s well deserved.
It’s a captivating and unsettling book that feels uncannily timely, especially when I heard about the far-right rioters in Dublin on the radio halfway through reading it.
They are calling it an insurgency on the international news, Molly says, but if you want to give war its proper name, call it entertainment, we are now TV for the rest of the world.”
The story is of life under repressive government, during civil war, and ultimately to the complete breakdown of society. It’s told through the experiences of one woman, in the recognisable and familiar setting of modern-day Dublin. It’s powerful, disturbing, and I couldn’t stop thinking about all the othered elsewheres where this is happening today, grim entertainment for us in safe, rich countries.
It’s an excellent book, and I recommend it. I also think that every Tory MP should be made to read it, right to the very last page.
I discovered that Waterstones also owns Foyles this week. I’d missed that news in 2018. I already knew that they owned Hatchards. Then I discovered that they had also bought Blackwell’s last year.
The list of chain bookshops on Wikipedia makes for grim reading: there’s Waterstones, WHSmith, and The Works. Of those, only Waterstones is a serious bookshop, and while I like their shops well enough, it’s not great that so the market is so concentrated.
But I didn’t stop there. I found a few lists of independent bookshops in London, reconciled them, pruned defunct entries, and scraped further information into one big file. I’d like to turn it into a wiki so that any interested parties can help keep it up to date, but I might start off by just publishing it as a flat website.
The exact definition of what is an independent bookshop is a bit difficult. There are quite a few independent Christian bookshops around, but I think they’re a different kind of thing. I think the same is true of the Swedenborg Society Bookshop. Does Daunt Books count as independent? It’s privately owned, but it has nine shops, and its founder and part-owner is the managing director of Waterstones. And should I include antiquarian bookshops?
Links I’ve bookmarked this week: