“I am a regular if not exactly enthusiastic patron of my local bookshop. I try to buy at least some books there because I cling to the belief that it’s important to maintain those businesses that put a human face on the exchange of money for goods and services. If we bought everything on the internet, our eyes and mouths and nostrils would probably begin to film over with a tegument – one initially tissue-thin and capable of being removed each morning, but which gradually thickened and hardened until we were imprisoned in our own tiny minds.
“Anyway, over the years I’ve not exactly grown friendly with the staff of the bookshop, but we do tolerate one another. They know I’m a writer – obviously – and they do me the kindness of displaying signed copies of my books in their window. On a couple of occasions I’ve even given readings at the shop. What I’m trying to say is that this is a functioning relationship, albeit one of a circumscribed kind: I write books; they sell books; I buy books from them (although not my own, because I know what’s in those ones already).
“Then, perhaps a year or two ago, one of the men who works in the bookshop told me he had written a book and asked me if I would take a look at it. This happens to me quite a lot – some people are looking for advice or assistance to get their work published, others simply require a generalised affirmation. None of them, I suspect, is looking for genuine and heartfelt criticism such as: Your book is dreadful, you are wholly without talent, please never try to do this again – although I’m glad you showed me this, for, having established quite how vile it is I have been able to burn it and so stop it falling into the hands of someone less worldly-wise and more vulnerable than me, who might be so depressed by your execrable efforts that they self-harmed or committed suicide.”