Why Valletta 2018 Needs To Address The Capital’s Book Culture Deficit
No bookshops means no culture. It’s that simple.
Valletta will soon serve as the European Capital for Culture, and in 2018 will come out in full force with a number of artistic projects and international collaborations which will hope to highlight the island’s potential as a place where creativity happens, and happens well.
The idea is for Valletta to become a place where you can just pop in and soak up some culture without even trying. Culture vultures will be sated, and artists will be inspired.
One thing appears to be lacking from this whole equation though: books. Specifically, book stores that don’t form part of a chain. Here’s a few reasons why this is a real obstacle for the V18 team.
1. Well, because books
We keep hearing that after all, ebooks never quite succeeded in drowning out print books as the main way people consume written content – certainly not in the same way that the mp3 and music streaming services have all but crushed CDs, for example.
This is because books are a simple form of technology that works. Words are printed on pages, you flip the pages to read them. Slide the book back into the shelf after you’re done. Simple.
Also, physical books can make for very attractive keepsakes, and continue to form part of the furniture of many a household. So any Capital of Culture that doesn’t respond to the enduring popularity of books has something of a problem on its hands.
2. Because Malta publishes lots of books
That’s over and above the healthy amount of high quality and well-produced local books in various genres that have been released with increasing regularity over the past few years. Maltese people are writing books, and Maltese people are reading them. So why have we limited their method of delivery to bland chain shops?
3. Because linking it to Valletta’s coffee culture may be a good idea
Our capital city boasts a number of high-quality and beloved cafes. So why not add books into that mix? Encourage cafes to stock up on books and reading areas. Or vice versa: set up incentives for any existing book shops to double up as cafes. There are hints of this out there already – Gugar in Republic Street is a chilled out spot literally lined with an eclectic selection of books. But this should be the rule, not the exception.
4. Because second-hand bookshops foster a sense of community
Ever since Island Books – run by the genial Liz Groves – departed from the scene, there has been a gaping second hand bookshop-shaped hole in Malta’s cultural fabric. Apart from admirab le hold-outs like Meli Book Shop (in Valletta itself) and the sporadic book-kiosks set up during garage sales and flea markets, there’s no longer any places you can root through for budget gems.
This is a real shame, as second-hand bookshops have a tendency to create a sense of communal goodwill, because they tend to be run by people who genuinely love books, are stocked with volumes that have seen some wear and tear and provide a regular meeting point for cash-strapped book lovers.
In short, unlike mainstream bookshops, the second-hand varieties put less pressure on you to buy-buy-buy, instead allowing you to soak in their mood at leisure.
5. Because it’s a tried and tested, pretty feature in European cities
Charing Cross Road in London, Shakespeare and Co in Paris… these are book-based locations that everyone makes note of – not just bookworms. Even as cosmetic objects, books provide as much of an atmospheric touch to a city as historical and architectural landmarks, with the added advantage that books require time and so invite browsing. Which brings us to why books are psychologically important too…
6. Because books make you pause for attention
In a country increasingly beset by encroachments and/or privatizations of public space, bookshops and libraries can provide a respite from the noise and claustrophobia. Creating a space that allows people to immerse themselves in books will lead to a more relaxed population, and also be of benefits to tourists and visitors just looking for a (rewarding) breather while they work through Valletta’s landmarks.
Featured image by Stewart Butterfield.