Thursday 15 October 2015

All Merit for Freedom and Literature! An open letter to Manchester City Council...

I volunteered to write a letter in support of Russell, up in court this week, but when I went to give it to him he wasn’t on his usual pitch (outside Stopford Building on Oxford Road), which is worrying in itself. So here it is, in the open of a blog, and I hope it does him some good. I shall get the handwritten original to him some way. 

To whom it may concern, 

This letter is in support of Russell (sorry, I don’t know his last name), who works as a street trader in books in Chorlton and elsewhere. Possibly he’s illegal, and operates without a license. but I think the bigger picture should be considered. 

Russell circulates books as efficiently as any public-funded library, and books are undervalued objects these days, and worth next to nothing in monetary terms – nevertheless, they spread happiness, information, entertainment, subversiveness etc. etc. A good browse is a universal pleasure. Russell’s little stall adds to Manchester’s gaiety (more so than any high street name). ‘Little’ is the operative word here: it’s clearly a shoestring affair, ran by someone with a passion for the curious and special (because Russell’s book selection is always out-of-the-way and interesting) and with an interest in people (a street bookstall is a great way to mix if you’re at all socially minded, and Russell is not shy of striking up conversation). He has passion, knowledge and conviviality then, but not much in the way of finance. In any civilised society Russell would be encouraged rather than persecuted. 

On a personal note, I hate what Manchester has become. Remember Blake’s poem, ‘London’: “I wander thro’ each charter’d street…” ‘Chartered’ is an accurate description of Manchester today, where every acre of public space is licensed to vendors. Albert Square, ostensibly a public space, is invariably monopolised by commercial interests: usually something called Manchester Markets, which is a slick, professional operation, utterly lacking in charm or character. Manchester Markets don’t sell books by William Blake, but Russell does. 

With Manchester Council is closing libraries (like my local in Hulme), further attacks on literacy – and variety – are to be deprecated. And if the Council’s controlling tendencies must be appeased, why not devote some small area in the city centre to the sale of second-hand books, like the Left Bank in Paris or Libreros in Madrid (popular tourist attractions, by the way) or the old Farringdon Road Market in London? 

That’s if free spirits like Russell would ever permit themselves to be regulated. All merit for freedom and literature! 

Yours sincerely, 

Mike Butler

The pictures – by Eva Navarro – show Russell in his short-lived shop, The Mix, in Chorlton, Manchester

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