Obama pops up
To mark the publication of Michelle Obama’s new memoir, Becoming, we at gal-dem, an online and print magazine written by women of colour and non-binary people of colour, have created a pop-up bookshop.
We have drawn on the rich tradition of black-owned bookshops in the UK to create the physical manifestation of our culturally radical magazine; it will challenge a publishing industry that still struggles with diversity. In 2016, the Bookseller found that fewer than 100 titles were published by nonwhite British authors. Everyone deserves to have access to books that reflect their experience, and that can only happen in the long term if more women of colour and non-binary people of colour have their works published.
It makes perfect sense for Obama’s memoir to be at the heart of this project, as she has always upheld the importance of reading. Literature is a democratising force and everyone is welcome into our shop to relax, have a cup of tea, some cake, attend one of our events and discover wonderful authors they may not have heard from before. Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff The gal-dem x Penguin pop-up shop will be at 2 Bury Place, London WC1A, for one week from 23 November. and shared freely. But this was not always the case. My institution, the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, created a special category for books that were deemed too sexually explicit. These books were marked on the shelf with the Greek letter Phi, and students had to submit a college tutor’s letter of support in order to access any racy material. The Phi shelfmark was created in 1882, at a time when Victorian Britain was at its most prudish, and it remained in use until relatively recently.
Now the public will have the first chance to view these books in an exhibition of around 3,000 items that range from scientific works to The Pop-up Kama Sutra, Ovid to Oscar Wilde. More recent titles include Madonna’s Sex and homoerotic drawings by Tom of Finland. It gives a kind of sociological snapshot, charting how perceptions of sexuality and appropriateness have changed over time.
The librarians have also preserved books whose UK publication was initially prevented by obscenity laws. Perhaps the most famous of these was Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The book was first published in Italy but not openly available in the British book trade until 1960. The Bodleian’s copy of the first edition had to be smuggled into Britain in a diplomatic bag. Richard Ovenden
The word of the year,
announced this week, is “single-use”, as in plastic bags or straws that end up in the oceans. In retrospect, the idea that one should manufacture spoons designed to be used exactly once and then chucked away whocares-where seems perfectly monstrous. But where did it come from?
The first records “single use” in 1959, in a publication about metal containers by the British Standards Institution. Here, a “single-use tube” is also known as a “oneshot tube” because it can’t be resealed and used again. Later, we find a reference to a “single use” typewriter ribbon, and then an explosion in the 1980s of single-use rectal thermometers, hypodermic needles, and so forth.
Clearly there are hygiene reasons to prefer singular use in some such cases, but it is the vast quantity of singleuse plastics used in the food business, in particular, that now seems increasingly perverse, a hangover from blithe mid-century assumptions of resource abundance. In this context, the industry preference for the term “singleuse” is plainly a sly euphemism that deliberately focuses on utility rather than polluting afterlife. Let’s all say instead what they carefully don’t: “disposable”.