23 May 2013
The day they
burned a book
I enjoyed reading Gary Dickson's 'Adventures of a Bibliophile' (16 May), describing the greatly loved and much frequented book stores of Edinburgh in the past.
I am wondering if Gary or other readers remember the Paperback Bookshop run by American-born Jim Haynes in the 60s. It was an iconic place, stacked from ceiling to floor with paperbacks on every conceivable subject but specialising in avant-garde literature. There you could browse to your heart's content and chat over strong coffee. It was an Aladdin's cave and attracted the thinkers, the left-wingers, the liberals and certainly bibliophiles.
The site of the shop is now occupied by the Edinburgh University visitor centre and informatics building. What a different landscape it is nowadays, sanitised in clean, modern lines, a stark contrast to the old shabby tenements among which the Paperback Bookshop was squeezed. Today Jim's bookshop is commemorated by a sad, almost unnoticeable plaque fixed close to ground-level near where the door would have been. On the wall above is a rhino's head which used to be over the shop entrance.
During the Paperback Bookshop reign, it was the scene of the burning of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' which had been stopped by Penguin. One day a severe-looking Edinburgh matron entered the shop and asked Jim if he could 'acquire' a copy for her. He told her to return in two days. Meanwhile, he alerted a photographer friend to be on hand with the camera. On the agreed day she arrived carrying a pair of coal tongs. Paying for the book, she picked it up with the tongs and carried it outside as if it was vermin. Jim and friend quickly followed to find her dousing the book in kerosene. Soon it was alight and off she ran into the sunset.
I would like to see the Paperback Bookshop re-instated and have spoken to the visitor centre to this effect. I even persuaded Jim Haynes to email the vice-chancellor about it. Nil response – it would not be profitable. My latest idea is to suggest a mural depicting the bookshop and Jim himself. Wouldn't that be grand? Surely that would be much more interesting than the blank wall we have at present. Watch this space.
We are grateful for the coverage of the General Assembly (21 May) but would be grateful if you could correct the misunderstanding re numbers. Commissioner numbers are boosted by large numbers of overseas guests. There are only 720 voting commissioners. From the attendance on Monday we know that there were only about 30 absentees (a likely number of illnesses and emergencies) and about 30 abstentions. Given the sensitive subject under discussion, 30 abstentions does not strike us as surprising.
Head of communications, Church of Scotland
I am somewhat aware of the poor conditions which exist in many parts of Scotland today. I was nevertheless taken aback by the following statement in Kenneth Roy's article (14 May) about Alex Ferguson:
Does Govan produce people like him any more? Do the conditions exist for the development of such outstanding individuals? I fear they demand the pre-requisites of industry, craft, pride in a day's work, and all these have gone. We are left with character. It doesn't feel enough. Even in Govan.
Winston Churchill once claimed that 'of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind'. I'm not sure but that the Scots eventually surpassed the Greeks. Nevertheless it is quite a testimonial.
Surely the independence alternative must be worth trying if more than 300 years of union rule has brought so many Scots to the tragic condition described above?
In an independent Scotland, a pro-independence Scottish Review could make a huge contribution to improving the lot of Scotland's people. And that, I feel, should be its calling and its mission. Otherwise, why bother?
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