Brother, can you spare a book?

Finding silver linings in dark clouds and looking on the bright side of a really terrible situation is not always welcome. Dr Pangloss proved what an irritating tick he could be, even in an earthquake.

Apart from the platitudes that do no one much good, optimism does have its uses. Possessing a better view of a bad situation can offer some relief. Finding comfort and solace in a book would be another, and quite, common one. That seems to be how Spaniards are facing up to tough times as reading is now rising faster than ever.

In the midst of the crushing despair in Spain, a country that is rushing backwards to a previous era, book borrowing is up nearly 51% in Andalusia from 2008, when the economy hit the skids. In Seville’s libraries, lending is up by 150%. For bookshops, though, there has been drop of 40% in sales.

That boring old printed books –no HD Bluray – should find readers says a lot about distractions, about having it all and then not having very much, if anything at all.

TV purveys constant acquisition as a means to fulfillment and happiness. To an audience with no money there is no sense to apartment renovation in a market that has no value to anyone, and why fill it with stuff made elsewhere? With a book the reader has it all in their hands, whether it’s heartfelt or trashy, there is nothing more to buy, it’s complete.

Looking to get along on a little less is not exclusive to Spain. In an annual survey of young people in the US this year the survey found that at the beginning of the recession, more of the 12th-graders were willing to “make do” with less, in other words, to ride a bike rather than drive. It correlates with other research that people become more altruistic and less materialistic, when living with economic hardship. They can find pleasure and connections in things that don’t cost very much at all.

Back in Spain the really remarkable thing is that the libraries are run by volunteers because municipal money has been cut. Some of the libraries have no power, no water, and yet they serve books and provide a semblance of community for people who are really struggling.

Paradoxically it’s the Internet that acts as catalyst for trying out the strange medium of books. Children roost outside a library leeching wireless connectivity on their laptops and then occasionally go inside to experience the shelves and the silence of a library. Once inside they will pick up a book and then borrow it.

That’s a good habit to get at any age.

Guy Cranswick
19th July 2013

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