Unsurprisingly, there’s been a lot of noise about Notre Dame: not just the fire, but the amount of money already donated towards the building’s reconstruction. OK, it’s a startling amount (apparently upwards of £750 million) and there is at least some validity in asking why, if some people have that much spare change kicking around, they aren’t chucking it in the direction of other pressing problems such as the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai, the Syrian refugee crisis, or the rising number of homeless people. There are, however, also already substantial donations pouring in to rebuild Louisiana’s black churches burned down by racists, a good cause which was touted on social media shortly after the Notre Dame appeal fund started growing.
Historic buildings matter. It’s fair to say that Notre Dame, whether or not you subscribe to any myth systems, represents human aspiration, determination and skill, has a fuckton of cultural importance internationally, and also makes a fair old contribution to the French economy by way of the tourism it attracts..A lot of the widespread whining about how it’s ‘just a building’ is the the usual witless virtue-signalling: the online equivalent of the tiresome colleague who loudly and ostentatiously refuses to buy a raffle ticket for an animal charity ‘while there are starving children’.Whatever your pet cause is, there is always going to be some fucker who thinks it’s less important than their pet cause, and there is a type of self-righteous puritanism that is all about destruction, renunciation and the rejection of anything with any tendency to give pleasure.
There’s also been a bit of a ruck about libraries, started off by this interesting piece and spread via Twitter threads..Libraries carrying a wider range of books can surely only be a good thing (come on, the more books available for everyone to read, the better, surely).It’s also true that libraries continually review what books they have outside of their archive and even, sometimes, get rid of some books. Outside of those libraries that maintain an archive of everything ever published, turnover is routine. The bestselling potboiler of 30 years ago is unlikely to be remembered by many people, let alone asked for – and there are going to be ties where a particular copy of a particular title is so battered it’s falling to pieces and pretty much unreadable. OK, I have only literally thrown away about three books in my entire lifetime: one where the binding had given way completely and all the pages fell out and two which had got wet due to being carted around in my bag in pouring rain and subsequently grown alarming patches of mould. Along with most booklovers, I have an absolute, visceral horror of books being destroyed rather than simply passed on to someone else who might appreciate them. Libraries, when they find they have more books than bookshelves, usually sell or donate the surplus to other outlets or individuals. No one is calling for them to burn ‘obsolete’ or ‘problematic’ titles.
What we need, overall, is room for as much beauty and kindness and variation as possible. Historic buildings and newer ones that are safer to live in. Books that offer a range of experiences and viewpoints. Less insistence that we can only have one thing at the expense of another, when there’s nearly always room for both and value in both.