Friday 23 May 2008

On The Morality of Book Buying

I've been having a bit of a moral crisis of late, caused by something I read in the paper. Someone had written in with an ethical dilemma about secondhand books. I forget the exact story, but it was something along these lines: they had tried to sell some books to a secondhand bookshop; the shop had refused to buy them because they didn't reckon they could sell them on, but offered to take them for free to stop them going to the charity shop next door, which they claimed is destroying their trade. So the person had some kind of moral dilemma about what they should do, or something.

Anyway. Various people had responded, and one of the responses was from some outraged person who said that the only morally right thing to do was to recycle the unwanted books, since no one has a right to buy books secondhand as that does not earn the author any money (they excluded out-of-print books from this, obviously).

WhyNotSmile (having too much time on her hands and being quite easily swayed) was promptly thrown into moral crisis, as she buys a lot of secondhand books and was rather distraught at having so unwittingly been party to (albeit unintentional) evil. This was further enhanced when she dug about in her memory and recalled that something similar was said somewhere along the line by some author (Janette Winterson, maybe? - would go online and check, but I'm currently Not Friends with my Vista internet connection).

Their point is this: books are written by authors. Authors have to earn a living. If you buy a new book, the auther gets a cut of what you pay. If you buy a secondhand book, only the shop you bought it from benefits, and the author gets nothing. This is therefore stealing, and you should be Ashamed Of Yourself.

The aforementioned-possibly-Janette-Winterson author compared secondhand book trading to music and film piracy, and suggested that it should be made illegal.

Now, in a sense, they have a point. If authors cannot make money by writing books, then clearly they're going to stop writing books. This is bad for them (as they'll have to go and get a real job), bad for publishing houses (who won't have anything to sell), and bad for literature in general (since Mills and Boon will always be the last to die). Now, I like reading, and I want to continue to be able to go to a bookshop and find books in it: new books, which I have not read before, and which are worth reading. For this reason, I do buy new books some of the time.

However, I do not agree that I am Morally Wrong (as opposed to Simply Unwise In View Of The Effect On The Future of Literature) to buy secondhand books some of the time as well. The only valid reason I can see for it being morally wrong is the one about authors' rights; the other two reasons mentioned above fall under the 'simply unwise' category.

My reasoning is this: just because someone wants to write books, doesn't mean that the rest of us have to make sure it's economically viable. You can't always get what you want; it's what everyone's parents call 'Tough'. I mean, I would like to be a wife and mother, but, since I have so far failed to attract a member of the opposite sex, I have to be a computer programmer instead. And I don't go around haranguing widows who remarry and accusing them of moral bankruptcy for using more than their fair quota of men. I would further argue that if you're a good author, the system will not fail you, but I don't like the implications for the analogy, so I won't.

Additionally, this argument could surely apply to any secondhand stuff you could name; when you buy it, the person who designed and made it in the first place doesn't benefit. But when stuff is made and a price is set, the price has to take into account the lifespan of the stuff, and how likely it is that people will buy the stuff new in the first place, and so on; this is how economics works (actually, I made that last bit up; I've no idea how economics works).

And thirdly, this also assumes that when I buy a book secondhand, the alternative would be to buy it new; in practice I can't afford to do that, so I might just buy one new book rather than 10 secondhand ones. But if I have bought a particular author's book secondhand and enjoyed it, then when I go to buy my one new book, it might just be that I decide to buy one by the author I liked. If I hadn't bought any secondhand books, I wouldn't know which new book to buy, and would simply collapse in a sobbing heap in the book shop, which does nothing much to improve anyone's economic prospects.

And finally, if trading in secondhand books is morally wrong, wouldn't that make libraries absolute dens of iniquity? This cannot possibly be true, so, using Proof by Absurd Converse, my argument stands.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

How To Be Happy

When you are having a hard time, there are many people who can tell you what you should do in order to be happy, and how you should do it.

The key to happiness is to identify such people, and then avoid them like the plague.

Sunday 18 May 2008

Things That Baffle Me: #3, Frequent Window-Cleaning

I read something in the paper today that disturbed me a bit. It was an advert for some window-cleaning stuff which is so good that you only have to clean your windows once a year.

It had never, and I mean Not Once, occurred to me to clean my windows more than once a year.

Monday 12 May 2008

An Update on the Building work

It's been a while since you got an update on the building work, so I decided it was high time to fill you in.

When we left off, the builders had been sacked, but most things were finished. The downstairs room was more-or-less complete, aside from a pane of glass above the double doors which go into the living room. One of the neighbours helped me out with this, and it's now all done; Papa Smile has been and decorated and it all really looks rather fabulous. I even managed to sort out curtains and make a Roman blind, although I haven't yet figured a way of attaching the latter to the window frame. One step at a time.

But the bathroom. Ah, the bathroom. This was less complete, requiring as it did a window, a door jamb (not sure how to spell that) and a lock to attach to it, sealant around the bath, and a shower screen.

The above-mentioned neighbour is handy with glass, and sorted out the window for us; my dad completed the tiling around it and it all looks well and no longer lets air in. The door jamb is too complicated, and has been left alone for the time being, while we build up our DIY experience levels; without this there's nothing to attach the lock to, so it is waiting on my bookshelf (I tell you that here so that when we finally get the jamb attached, I'll be able to look this up and remind myself where I left the lock). We'll come back to the sealant in a moment, but before it went on we had to get the shower screen up.

Now, you will recall that I mentioned, back in January, being off work for a time; this was due to stress. The first day of the stress was a Friday, and I had woken up in the grip of a severe panic attack (which kicked off the trip to the doctor which led to the time off). Anyway, I was in a hysterical sort of mood, and by coincidence my dad chose that day to come and install the shower screen (thinking, of course, that I'd be at work). My dad is generally full of confidence when it comes to DIY, and even with that it doesn't always work out in the expected manner, so it was a bit ominous when he arrived and said (after calming me down and feeding me toast) that he wasn't really sure how this shower screen worked and he's not very good at this sort of thing anyway. So I went back to bed, and lay there learning new swear words; when I re-emerged, I had a shower screen which was more impressive than the level of swearing had promised.

A quick squirt of sealant round the bath and that was that, except that there was a gap in the sealant round about the place where the water pools when you have a shower, so a week later the living room ceiling started to leak. I added a bit more sealant, but then the bath sunk a bit (worrying, under most circumstances, but as a relative thing, somewhere near the bottom of the list) and created a whole new gap, so the water is still pouring through and the paper has fallen off the living room ceiling. So this still needs fixing.

And finally, the landing cupboard. To set the scene, because I realise I haven't mentioned this cupboard a lot, what with all the other exitement, we were left with an empty cupboard with no shelves and no door. My dad, energised by the (relative) success of the shower door, decided he could tackle this, or at least the shelving therein. So he had to construct 3 shelves and attach them to the inside of the cupboard. Fortunately, my dad is a great believer in the saying 'Measure twice, cut once'; unfortunately, he tends to be in too much of a hurry to actually implement this belief, and so it was that I went out into the landing to find one not-too-bad shelf, and one which was 2 inches higher at one side than the other.

Realising that the window of acceptable remarks which could be made about this was quite small, and that this window was sandwiched soundly between (on the one hand) lying through my teeth and saying it was fine (thus being patronising and risking having to live with a sloping shelf forever) and (on the other) saying something nasty and unhelpful, I suggested that I should put the kettle on, and this went down quite well. Happily, my dad had realised that the shelf was the wrong height at one side, and was quite prepared to rectify it after a cup of coffee. I say 'rectify'; I'll not be using it to store loose tennis balls, but it's better than it was.

For those who are here to deepen their DIY knowledge, my dad has an interesting approach to finding the 'struts' in a wall (walls are made, apparently, with bits of wood arranged in a sort of grid thing, and then with plasterboard nailed to them - to put up a shelf, you are best to attach it to a part of this grid - the struts - rather than just the plasterboard, especially if you want it to stay up when you put things on it). This approach of my dad's is basically 'bang a nail in and if it goes in easily, you're on plasterboard; if it doesn't go in easy at all, you're on a strut; if it goes in quite easily but there is a big bang and everything goes dark or you die, you've hit a cable'. The approach can be further adapted to include water pipes in the list of things you might hit (specifically, if you bang the nail in and water comes out, you've found a pipe), but on this occasion that was not a problem.

The third shelf was measured 5 times, presumably to get the days' 'measurements' verses 'cuts' ratio back into balance. It looks good and is very sturdy.

Finally, last week my dad came up and re-decorated the hall, stairs and landing, and very nice it is too - you'd look at it casually and have no idea that we'd drunk a bottle of more-than-averagely-strong wine between us by the time we got to the gloss work.

Saturday 10 May 2008

Victoria Square: WhyNotSmile Investigates

Hot on the heels of Ikea, Belfast has a flashy new shopping experience (which brings me to my first point: why 'experience'? Why does it always have to be an 'experience'? Why can't it just be shops, where you just turn up and buy (or not, as we shall see when we get to my main point later) things, like in the olden days?). The new experience is called Victoria Square, and combines cinema, shopping and food all in one place (out the back of Argos).

So I went to visit experience this new establishment (out of journalistic necessity, obviously), and the first thing that struck me was that it was rather like being outdoors, but indoors; for although there is a roof, there are no walls, as such (you'd probably have to visit to see how this works), so you wander around protected from the rain but having the full experience of the breeze. Which is quite nice, on warm days.

There is also a Dome, which merits a mention, because it's high up and made of glass, so you can see out and have a shufty at Belfast from above. In order to achieve this you have to acquire a free ticket from a talkative fellow on the lower ground floor (who will also provide you with a weather and visibility report, along with other sundry cheerful conversation) and then you walk or (as in my case) take the lift to the top floor where you wander in and have a look around at the sights of Belfast (the ticket, by the way, does not appear to play any further part in proceedings once you've taken hold of it; you don't need it to get into the lift, and you don't need it to get into the Dome. Given that it's also free to start with, one has to question the need for it to exist at all; possibly the chap on the lower ground floor just likes people to come and talk to him). (The lift, by the way, is something of an experience in itself - one of those glass affairs where you can see all the ropes and things and therefore spend the journey picturing how little needs to go wrong in order for the whole thing to plummet to the nearest concrete base.) But back to the Dome. On the occasion of WhyNotSmile's visit, things outside were a little misty, but it looked like it would be a nice view if you could see it. I liked the Dome.

The main point, however, of this establishment is the shopping, and you will want to know how that is. I like it, but not in the way you might expect; specifically, I like it in the way I like when newspapers have special pull-out football sections. Let me explain: I do not like football; a pull-out football supplement is therefore a good thing, because it can simply be pulled out of newspaper and thrown in the recycling bin (or given to someone who does like football, of course) - this allows me to get on with reading the worthwhile bits of the paper, undisturbed. In the same way, Victoria Square is a useful device for taking all the shops in Belfast that I can't afford to shop in, and putting them in one easily avoidable location, thereby leaving me free to wander the streets of the city centre and see only things which are within my budget. They've even had the heart to throw Claire's Accessories in there (not that I can't afford Claire's Accessories, I just don't want them), although I've yet to figure out whether this is because it has relocated (a good thing) or simply spawned an offspring (bad thing). That's not to say the shops aren't nice; they are, and so are the things they sell, it's just that you could feed the people of several poorer nations for the price of a jumper in some of them. It's basically Debenhams, only stretched out over more floor space and with more walls between the different bits. So I didn't actually buy anything, but just enjoyed the experience, which is maybe why they call it an experience rather than a shopping centre.

The highlight of the visit was Paperchase, which is in part of House of Frazer, and which consists almost entirely of notebooks and photo albums, but this is the sort of thing I like in a shop, so I had a lot of fun.

This of course says nothing about the restaurants and the cinema, because I began to feel I was becoming over-experienced and left them for another day (I'm also not sure that the cinema has opened yet, which throws a further spanner in the works). At one point I heard word that there are apartments in some part of it as well; I can't confirm this as I haven't seen them, but can only assume they'll be very expensive and that they'll not have skylights (otherwise the Dome-visitors would be looking in on them).

On Being Unemployed

Though I say it myself, if there's one thing in life I'm good at, it's being unemployed. Not that I'm good at ending up unemployed (although I'm not, apparently, lacking in this area either), but that once I find myself out of work, I cope with it all quite well.

I've never understood those people who say they wouldn't know what to do if they didn't have work to go to; I can only assume that they are either (a) joking, (b) insane, or (c) lying, because how is being at work so much more entertaining than being at home? I mean, when you're at home, you actually have, if you want it, the option of pretending to be at work, and pretending to do whatever it is you're supposed to do in work, but you also have other options, such as lying on the sofa, or watching TV, or going bird watching; whereas when you're at work, you only have the option of being at work (and pretending to do whatever it is you're supposed to do in work), and nothing else; therefore being at home clearly has more entertainment potential than being at work. And even more so if being at work is not, in your case, particularly entertaining.

So anyway, it has been lovely weather here in Belfast all week, so I have acquired myself a suntan and half a faceful of freckles (I went for a bike ride on Monday; when I was cycling outward, with the sun on my right, it was misty; when I was cycling homeward, with the sun on my left, it was sunny). Actually Monday's bike ride was not as successful as usual; I planned my route in advance, but completely forgot that it was virtually the same as the route of the Belfast Marathon, which also took place on Monday - the only difference being that my route was going in the opposite direction to that of the marathon, and hence I spent most of my time trying not to spear joggers with my pedals.

I have been very grateful for the public library service in Belfast, which allows me to check emails for free, and to log onto Facebook and read my Wall, but not to play Scramble (which, if I am allowed two things in life to be good at, would be my second thing), and to read the news. It does not, unfortunately, allow me to update my blog, hence the paucity of posting of late. It has also made me think that maybe I want to be a librarian.

Another thing for which I am grateful is the leaving gift I received from work. Owing to the speed with which I left, and to the belief that 'the greatest gift you can give anyone is money', I got the present in cold, hard cash, and have been seeking ways to transform it to something more permanent. To this end, and because everyone was very generous, I am seeking a hi-fi for my new room; I would like it to have the following features:
* DAB Radio, with optional FM/MW tuner in case I can't get DAB in my house
* iPod/MP3 player connection, preferably in some way that doesn't involve a lot of leads training everywhere
* a tape player; I know, but I have lots of tapes and I want to be able to listen to them
* Nice sound
* a life expectancy of at least 35 years.
This combination of features is hard to find within my budget; the tape player is the sticking point, but I don't think it's unreasonable... if anything, I'd like a tape player more than a CD player, because all my CDs are on my iPod, whereas my tapes are still just tapes. But I'm coming round to the fact that I may have to sacrifice the tape player for the sake of the other bits.

I also cut my grass; unfortunately I didn't discover until afterwards that I don't have a rake any more (presumably it was a casualty of the Builders), so there's now a lot of loose grass all ready to blow all over my street if a wind gets up tonight. That's not the sort of thing they take kindly to on our street; also, the grass was about a foot high in places, so there's a good bit of it to go around.

So all in all, the first week of unemployment has been good, and I think if I play my cards right I can get a good few more weeks in before I have to terminate said unemployment with a job.