In light of the Welsh Government’s recent firebreak guidelines and associated restrictions, Esyllt Sears considers the reaction of the public to the classification of books as ‘non-essential’ items.
A furore has broken out on social media this week regarding the Welsh Government’s firebreak guidelines on essential items, with particular attention being given to books. Who knew that in 2020 pages of parchment could still conjure such emotions in people? Do we dare to dream that Wales is a nation of bookworms, unable to go two weeks without buying an England cricketer’s latest biography from Asda? I jest, of course. As a writer and the daughter of an author and book editor, I understand the importance of books, to some tedium. Trust me.
Books have the ability to empower, to comfort, to provide escapism and an opportunity to change and venture further than you ever dreamt possible… I flourish, but you knew all this to be true, right?
Books took my Rhondda tad-cu away from a life as a collier. His father was adamant he wouldn’t end up down the mine and that he would work hard at school. And he did. Hearing him talk about this, and the subsequent conversations we had about literature, had such an effect on me. To this day, I remember his favourite poem (‘Sŵn y Gwynt sy’n Chwythu’, J. Kitchener Davies) and play (The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde). Books can leave a real imprint on your life, and hold a mirror up to it when you’re gone.
A part of me has enjoyed watching online bots tying themselves up in knots accusing the Welsh Government of fascism, having seemingly forgotten about the internet with its online book stores and libraries… and actual bona fide fascism.
Let’s take a minute and remind ourselves of historical book banning incidents: Nazi Germany with their book bonfires; the apartheid regime in South Africa and its book censorship… I really don’t think I need to list more than that to demonstrate how this is not what’s happening in Wales right now. These were periods in history when books were made unavailable, on purpose, to control the masses and undermine minorities. In Wales? Today? You can still access books. Find out if there’s a local bookstore near you or whether a publisher you like takes orders and buy over the phone or online directly from them. Turn this awfulness into something positive for once.
Also, it’s just two weeks.
Books have seemingly been under threat for a while, with the advent of tablets, audiobooks and library closures. But with sales of printed books still accounting for over 80% of the combined print and digital UK book market in 2018, I imagine they’ll remain in some form or other. And it’s unlikely we will see the end of the Richard and Judy Book Club anytime soon. Having said that, my daughter (7) has been secretly working on her first book. It’s about a fairy called Mici. I’ve been privy to an early draft and most of it so far involves a bird defecating on Mici’s head and all the other fairies observing in utter disgust. This creation may well bring down the book industry once and for all, who knows. But one thing I do know is that my granddad would’ve loved it.
Esyllt Sears is a writer and stand-up comedian from Aberystwyth.
(Image Credit: Ben Birchall/PA)