The Rise of the Non-Book Book

The New Iconography of Feminine Purity: Our Lady of the Seven Salads; She of the Immaculate Complexion

The new iconography of feminine purity: Our Lady of the Seven Salads,
She of the Immaculate Complexion

On the high streets of small towns, the success stories are Primark, Greggs, Wilko, Poundland and variety shops like Tiger. Card and gift emporiums are ubiquitous. In this unpropitious climate, Waterstones is holding out with almost 300 shops, recovering – according to the figures – from near failure four years ago. The owner, Alexander Mamut, has invested over £50 million. James Daunt was brought in to give the shops more character and relax central control: booksellers can decide which books to promote and tailor their own displays.

But it isn’t all about the books. More »

Tartuffe in Béziers

In March 2014, Robert Ménard, one of the founders of Reporters without Borders (he isn’t involved anymore) was elected mayor of Béziers, a small city in the South of France, with the support of the Front National. Ménard is not in the FN but has said he agrees with 80 per cent of what they say. More »

March Madness

For the past three months I have had the good fortune to be the Heimbold Visiting Chair of Irish Studies at Villanova University, northwest of Philadelphia. Last night Villanova was in the final of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship for the first time since winning in 1985. (I am not claiming there is a connection with my being here, but any American universities willing to take a punt on next year are free to give me a call.) More »

How did we end up here?

In No Name in the Street, James Baldwin describes how, not long after he settled in France in 1948, he ‘had watched the police, one sunny afternoon, beat an old, one-armed Arab peanut vendor senseless in the streets, and I had watched the unconcerned faces of the French on the café terraces, and the congested faces of the Arabs.’ With a ‘generous smile’, Baldwin’s friends reassured him that he was different from the Arabs: ‘Le noir américain est très évolué, voyons!’ He found the response perplexing, given what he knew of French views about the United States, so he asked a ‘very cunning question’: More »

A Stalking Horse for Nexit

Springtime for Europe. Magnolia buds jut from the bough, and the Netherlands is gripped by Euro-referendum fever. Or, if ‘fever’ is too strong, the vibe in Amsterdam’s smokeasies is at least lightly tousled. For we’re talking not of the UK’s in/out poll on 23 June, but the one that really matters, here on 6 April, on ratifying the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine. More »

N is for Muslim

Laurence Rossignol, the French minister for families, children and women’s rights, was asked on Wednesday by the radio station RMC for her views on the recent trend among Western fashion houses to produce clothes, such as the ‘burkini’, aimed at observant Muslim women. She said she thought it was an ‘irresponsible’ decision that encouraged ‘the imprisonment of women’s bodies’. But didn’t some women choose to dress that way? Yes, and ‘there were also American nègres who supported slavery,’ she said. More »

Protective Custody

On Tuesday I went to visit a group of refugee children in police custody in a village near Idomeni, on the Greek border with Macedonia. The policeman banged open the lock of the black metal cell door and it swung forward. The other boys moved aside to let Harith through. The door clanged shut. Harith and the seven boys with him are refugees from Syria, Iraq and Pakistan; they are all aged between 14 and 17. Under Greek law, unaccompanied minors are supposed to be held in police custody only until they can be transferred to centres for young people. But, all over Greece, the centres are full. Harith has been in jail for more than two weeks. More »

Cultures and Imperialism

In its last week in print, the Independent carried a piece under the headline: ‘One more thing imperialism has to answer for: dysentery.’ It’s a striking statement, but is it true? More »

How to Solve Labour’s Funding Problem

The Trade Union Bill represents an existential threat to the Labour Party. If passed it would change the way workers pay into their union political fund, at present the only means by which the unions are allowed to fund the party. The Bill proposes that, rather than having to opt out of the political levy, as is presently the case, unionists would have to agree to pay, in writing, every five years. There are four million levy payers in unions currently affiliated to Labour; the change could lose the party as much as £8 million a year. The House of Lords voted earlier this month that the proposed reforms should apply only to new members. The reprieve may prove temporary. More »

In İzmir

The only travel agencies open in İzmir on a Sunday are in Basmane. A neighbourhood of former imperial splendour, it is now known as Little Syria. I was there on 20 March, the day that the deal between the EU and Turkey to deport ‘all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands’ came into effect. There’d been a suicide bombing in Istanbul the day before, and another in Ankara a week earlier. Basmane was the only part of İzmir where the streets were crowded. More »

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