A second hand bookshop in Glasgow. How many books is too many books?
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You wouldn’t believe how much more objectionable I’d be if I wasn’t a socialist

That I have lived pretty much entirely self-sufficiently for six and a half years is a matter of some astonishment.

Someone comes round to look at the Hovel with a view to moving into the newly vacated room for six months. I am not wild about this, for it means more sharing of space, but it has to be done.

I reflect that I think about people in the same way I think about dogs: I despise them in theory and consider them, as the Semitic religions do, basically unclean; but once I meet them and I look into their large, liquid eyes, I cannot help but want to scratch them behind the ears and give them treats. They might make me come out in a rash and sneeze – and heaven help me if I stroke them and then rub my eyes – but damn it, there’s something adorable about them.

Is this a sound basis for my socialism, I wonder? I think it could be and it’s all the more sincere for being hard-won, against my ungenerous inclinations. I am reminded, by a roundabout process of association, of the response that Evelyn Waugh gave to Nancy Mitford (I think), who asked what the hell he was doing being a Catholic, as he was such a shit. His rather convincing reply went: you wouldn’t believe how much more of a shit I’d be if I wasn’t a Catholic.

Anyway, this person declined to take the room, giving the reason that the communal living areas were too messy. Considering that these communal areas comprise 1) a bathroom with lots of books in the bidet and bath, neither of which work; 2) a living room filled with books; 3) a kitchen, with lots of jars and bottles of stuff about the place, admittedly, but with only a well-mannered shelf of cookbooks (which, as a confident, self-sufficient cook, I never have to use); and 4) a terrace, an entirely book-free zone but, what with the weather and all that, not somewhere you’d want to hang out on right now, I only dimly understand the nature of the objection.

So I have been placed under orders, politely, to do something about this. Fair enough. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse. That I have lived pretty much entirely self-sufficiently for six and a half years without drowning in a sea of my own detritus and indolence, both physical and psychical, is a matter of some astonishment to people who have known me for a while and something of an astonishment to me, now that I come to think of it.

I think about this after coming back from a dinner with a friend who pities me from time to time and takes me to the restaurant Mon Plaisir in Covent Garden. I first met her not long after being kicked out by the wife and thought, when I clapped eyes on her, “Golly” – but our friendship has, thank goodness, proceeded along entirely platonic lines.

She’s also married and I realised pretty quickly that, even though I was by no means a choirboy when I was married, I have no desire at all to screw up anyone else’s arrangements. The discovery of a latent sense of morality in the autumn of one’s life was something I was unprepared for. I had assumed that leopards did not change their spots, after enduring many long and bitter lectures to this effect. Perhaps I’m not a leopard. Who knew?

My friend mentions that she knows many women roughly my age who are divorced and, to use a rather less weighted adjective than she does, keen to enter another relationship. I head her off at the pass before she can proceed. Even if I were on the market, I say (and I am most definitely not), the idea of entering a relationship with a divorcee would not appeal, on the grounds that such women are at least as set in their ways as I am – and my ways, laissez-faire in the extreme on the personal level, do not appeal to many these days.

I have learned that everyone, after a point, only likes things when they are done just so and any deviation is intolerable. I wonder how many marriages break up because one partner has decided that the other simply isn’t “doing things right”.

Also, there is that inbuilt dissatisfaction so many people cultivate. Marx’s prediction that one of the bad things about late capitalism would be “a contriving and ever calculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural and imaginary appetites” suggests, to me, not only pointlessly craving the latest iPhone but being the kind of person who feels the need to redecorate a room whether it needs it or not. Why, in the end, bother?
 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Can we talk about climate change now?

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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland