The Shop That No Rioter Wanted To Loot . . . Because It Sells Books

David Cohen, London Evening Standard, September 20, 2011

On the worst night of London rioting almost every shop in Clapham was ransacked–except one. The bookshop.

In one of the most telling images of the summer, looters stole TVs, hair products and iPods, but the Waterstone’s branch was left untouched.

The “joke” the next day was that the rioters do not know how to read. Simon, the manager of camping shop Blacks, watched it all from an upstairs window, hiding in terror as hundreds of looters plundered his shop and the street.

“They smashed our window, ripped the plasma TVs off our walls, took all our jackets and rucksacks. I saw them go into Claire’s Accessories, break into NatWest, liberate our neighbours Toni & Guy of hair products. They carted off iPods from Currys, clothes from Debenhams, mobile phones from Carphone Warehouse. I was horrified.

“But Waterstone’s, directly opposite us was untouched. For the looters it was as if it did not exist.”

When Waterstone’s deputy manager Alicia Baiger arrived next day to a street littered with broken glass and debris, she was amazed to find that her shop–with its £199 Sony eReaders and three-for-two £10 paperbacks–had suffered “not even a scratch”.

What this free-for-all revealed better than any consumer behaviour poll could, is that many young people have no desire for books. Not even when they are apparently free.

Something must be done to address illiteracy in London, and the Evening Standard is trying to play a small part in the solution. In a packed, buzzing conference room in Islington library, our first volunteers are being trained as reading helpers.

From undergraduates to retired bankers, they will shortly be placed in schools to support children who have fallen behind in their reading. They came because they were inspired by the Evening Standard’s Get London Reading campaign which seeks to fund an army of helpers trained by our partner charity, Volunteer Reading Help.

All summer, VRH has been processing applicants. Of the 700 people who applied, 350 have been interviewed, 330 have been dispatched for Criminal Records Bureau approval, and 68 have already been trained and placed in schools.

“The quality of applicants has been extremely high and now it’s all systems go,” said VRH chief executive Sue Porto.

“A further 200 Evening Standard volunteers will be trained this month and next at 20 special sessions across London, from Hackney to Hounslow.

“We expect to have 170 volunteers in schools by the October half-term, which means a critical helping hand for more than 500 children. VRH aims to phase in the rest of the volunteers to help at least another 500 children as the school year unfolds.”

The Standard visited a training sessions to see who responded to our literacy drive, and why. The 18 trainees attending in Islington were a vibrant, confident, multicultural group who will be deployed mainly in schools in deprived parts of east London.

Rosie Agnew, 27, one of two VRH trainers in attendance, is tasked with giving them the skills, strategies and ethos they will need.

“The response to the Standard campaign has been fantastic,” she said. “Twenty per cent of the 700 applicants are men, twice as many as we usually get, and there are more younger applicants too, with one in six under 30 and nearly half under 50.”

Each volunteer must be available for two 90-minute sessions a week during school term for a year, no small commitment. So what motivated them to sign up? Investment banker’s daughter Abigail Golob, 23, who is studying physiotherapy at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, wants to help children who struggle to read like she once did.

“I remember hating the books I was given to read as a child,” she said. “I read very, very slowly and would quickly fall behind. Reading was something I did at school because I had to, but I detested doing it at home.

“I was afraid of big books, so my mother’s resolution was to chop them into manageable chunks, physically ripping them down the spine so I could tackle them in sections. It worked, I persisted, and Harry Potter was the first book I read all the way through.”

Abigail was inspired to sign up after reading the stories of children with no books at home. Despite a privileged upbringing, she said she sees the costs of being unable to read all around her.

“I have a friend who grew up in care and can’t read and my boyfriend is the same. They have the reading age of 10-year-olds. The other day I opened a tin of artichokes and my boyfriend couldn’t read what it said on the tin.

“I see how people regard him as stupid because he is illiterate, and how hard it is for him to get a job. I want to help children avoid that fate and open their eyes to the fun reading can bring.”

For David Morris, 73, a retired businessman, becoming a volunteer is payback time.

“It was only because I got one-on-one help in my last year of high school that I learned to read,” he said. “I grew up in Dagenham, but there was a lot of instability at home and I was moved to five primary schools in four years.

“At high school, I was put in the lowest ability group where people made animal noises and just messed about. Later they wanted to make me a prefect, but I declined because prefects had to read on stage from the Gospels–and I couldn’t read.

“It was only when my father bought a TV that I taught myself to read the Radio Times so I could work out what was on the telly. In my final year of high school, a teacher gave me one-on-one attention and it helped enormously.”

Jaishri Hamilton, 53, who came to London from Tanzania at 18, is a retired investment banker living in Wanstead. “The campaign in the Standard made me think about people who have been less fortunate and I am keen to play my part,” she said.

Irene Chung, 67, a mother of five from Palmers Green, retired as a facilities manager this year. “I was schooled in the Caribbean where books were hard to come by,” she said. “I find it difficult to comprehend that children in London have so much and yet squander their opportunity.”

Penny Cook, 21, an English undergraduate at Greenwich University and the youngest trainee, said: “I am here because my nan was illiterate–and because you can’t do anything in life if you can’t read.”

Over two days, the group is taught how to win the trust of reluctant readers, tips for building pupils’ self-esteem, games to play as ice-breakers, and encouraged to see the world from the point of view of the child. “These trainees are very high quality,” said Ms Agnew.

“They are excited, a bit apprehensive, but absolutely up for it. In a few weeks they will be placed in schools and each will be assigned three children. The vanguard of new Get London Reading volunteers is about to make an impact.”

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  • Anonymous

    I wouldn’t steal but if I ever had a lapse of conscious the bookstore would probably be the only place I hit. It’s too bad someone wasn’t able to track which stores were first to be looted in each area. I’m betting it was the bottle shops.

  • Anonymous

    Everybody knows the enlightened rioting youths (note the lack of irony quotes) didn’t take to the bookstore because of their deep reverence for knowledge and the written word. Duh!

  • mf

    Yes. Teach them to read so they could vandalize the bookstore also.

  • NBJ

    Well this story certainly took a bizarre turn. Instead of being thankful the book store wasn’t looted and burned to the ground, they bemoan the illiteracy in London. Maybe if they teach all to read, the book store won’t feel so left out next time riots break out. Sheesh.

    Besides the strange twist in this article, I’ll never understand people who say they hate to read. For me, reading is a passion that I’ve passed on to my children. On any given day you’ll find every member of my family with our noses in a good book. I’d rather snuggle up in bed with a good book than go out to dinner and a movie. On average I read three novels a week, so thank goodness for the library where the staff know me and my family very well.

  • C.

    You can’t make this stuff up. Apparently society is sinking faster than we can imagine. But it’s true… for most of society, it’s as if books don’t even exist anymore. Breaks my heart.

  • Uncle Dee

    Teaching the youts to read is a splendid idea. All stores, including bookstores, should have an equal opportunity to be looted during the next yout riot.

  • Rhialto

    Will an indulgent Englishman reassure me that this article is satirical, to be regarded as a mockery of liberal foolishness. The article seriously states that the rioters disinterest in stealing books should motivate law abiding citizens to invest time and resources to teach these criminals to read. This is in the great tradition of English satire, Swift, Parkinson, etc. It must be, or the U.K. has become as fatuous as the U.S.

  • German

    The same picture can be seen in Detroit:

    Everything is looted down but not the library. In the library all books are still at their place: http://goo.gl/BS7Sm

  • Question Diversity

    “If you want to hide something from a black man, put the thing in a book, and put the book in a library.” — Onion Horton, St. Louis black talk radio host

  • Aaron

    I’m not even going to post a racist joke. It’s just too easy.

  • Mr Pibb

    This article devolves into comedy, intentional or not. I suggest an alternative headline.

    ‘Riots ravage city. Something must be done to address literacy’.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s what a burglar would see if he entered my house:

    1. A living room with two full sized bookcases and one half sized bookcase.

    2. A dining room with 5 full sized bookcases. (Yes, there’s room for a table and chairs, too.)

    3. A computer room with two full sized bookcases and one half sized bookcase.

    4. A bedroom with three full sized bookcases.

    All the bookcases are full and I keep books on top of them too.

    That’s why I don’t worry too much about burglary — aside from my computer there isn’t much a burglar would be interested in.

    What I don’t understand is why they want to teach literacy to the looters. Do they want the bookstore to be ransacked too?

  • Anonymous

    yes, well I a currently destroying my amazon inventory, because people just don’t like to read anymore…. In five years, when all the paperbacks are gone then you will realize what power you gave to Amazon.

    In the meantime, this article makes me sick… the correct response to the looting was deport and close the border, not spend more time trying to teach animals to read.

  • Anonymous

    I suppose that there could be some truth to the idea that illiteracy is the reason the bookshop was left untouched because it wasn’t just the youths who rioted, there were a few whites and Asians too.

    Nevertheless, given that three-quarters of those arrested had criminal records, I’m inclined to chalk it up to TYB.

  • Tim in Indiana

    Something must be done to address illiteracy in London

    Am I missing something here? Is reading not taught to all schoolchildren in England?

    This recalls an old saying: “Don’t try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and only annoys the pig.”

  • Istvan

    14 — Anonymous wrote at 9:58 PM on September 20:

    Nevertheless, given that three-quarters of those arrested had criminal records, I’m inclined to chalk it up to TYB.

    Remember, in the UK a four year old can have a permanent record for calling another child “chocolate face” or something equally silly.

  • AvgDude

    Books: Kryptonite to a rioter.

  • Anonymous

    Am I wrong , but this daft writer turned the story of the brown mob’s atrocities into a cry for inculating the burning desire for reading in the poor third worlders’ lives?

    So this is merely a diatribe to raise literacy among the stupid?

    Well, just BUY a bookstore, then, and leave the doors open all night. We’ll watch to see how your experiment goes.

    Who wrote this crap?

  • Anonymous

    “They are excited, a bit apprehensive, but absolutely up for it. In

    a few weeks they will be placed in schools and each will be assigned three children.”

    At which time they will crash headlong into the hard fact that these rioting, looting THUGS have an average I.Q. of about 75.

  • AngryEuropean

    Article says: “What this free-for-all revealed better than any consumer behaviour poll could, is that many young people have no desire for books. Not even when they are apparently free.”

    How do hardcore criminaly always turn into “youths” in the mainstream media?

    Basically, the looters were mostly criminals (I feel kind of stupid to even say this):

    http://in-other-news.com/2011/England_rioters_had_on_average_15_criminal_offences_per_head

    – Looters had 16000 amassed offences (15 on average)

    – 25% had more than 10 offences, 5% even over 50(!)

    – 10% were on parole or serving a community sentence

  • cpascal

    It’s true that most blacks don’t understand anybody who enjoys reading. Once I boarded a bus with a stack of library books, and a group of blacks in the back began laughing about “this little girl who’s been to the library.” I suppose it’s because reading is a quiet activity, whereas most blacks prefer to spend their time being loud.

  • white is right, black is whack

    Too bad, Brits. Shouldn’t have gave up your firearms. If you had them when a situation like this would have broken out, there would be less rioters.

  • Anonymous

    Only a white liberal could conclude from this that “we have to do something to address illiteracy.”

  • rjp

    What this free-for-all revealed better than any consumer behaviour poll could, is that many young people have no desire for books.

    Young people?

  • Paleface 6

    So the yoots can’t read? A pity; I f they could, they might have read the story about the Wild West saloon owner whose whiskey resupply was being looted by the illiterate wagoneer hired to pick it up from the railhead. Half a case or so would be missing, and the wagoneer would be obviously drunk.

    “Whaddaya gone do about it, pipsqeak?” was the wagoneer’s surly reply, when asked about the missing whiskey.

    The saloon owner’s solution was to order a case of wood alcohol, clearly labeled as such, not grain alcohol. The wagoneer picked up the next delivery, drank half the case, and killed himself in the process.

  • Anonymous

    I’m surprise no commenter has drawn a comparison with Katrina in NOLA, where every department of the local Wal-Mart was looted of all their goods EXCEPT the departments for books and Country music CDs.

  • Fr. John

    I’ll say it, because it’s true.

    Illiterates are easier to control, than those who THINK they are intelligent.

    And, why try to make someone with an IQ of 70, pretend to be the equal of someone with an IQ of 100?

    Something about teaching a pig to sing comes to mind…..

  • Anonymous

    At least the world’s greatest and most substantial pastime is free and spared of the taint of multiculturalism. Telling.

  • voiceofstl

    “If you want to hide something from a black man, put the thing in a book, and put the book in a library.” — Onion Horton, St. Louis black talk radio host

    What ever happen to Onion? Is he still alive? I wish KMOX would give him a show.

  • June Warren

    This reminds me of blacks looting in New York many years ago when there was a power failure. Jesse Jackson said that “when the lights go out poor people will steal food.”

    The TRUTH was that not one grocery store, deli, or restaurant was looted, but every liquor, jewelry, and clothing store in sight was cleaned out.

  • Duran Dahl

    I recall that during some black riot the lefty media facilitator averred that the denizens of the ghetto were rioting because they were hungry. A pundit noted that they must have been thirsty as well, because the first establishment they looted was a liquor store. For blacks, books are implicitly “raciss.”

  • Anonymous

    I played a number of TV drinking games with my roommates in college (I know… I know). One involved watching MTV Cribs, a show displaying wealth homes of celebrities including many blacks. I’ll spare you the detailed rules but one negligible rule required a shot for any book shown in the home…

    “If you want to protect your money, hide it in your books because [black people] don’t read.” – Chris Rock

  • Anonymous

    I lived in Rio de Janeiro in eighties right by the beach. When I would walk along the sand the only thing I saw anyone reading was comic books. In contrast in the U.S you see (Whites) reading all kinds of normal books for the most part.

    And they want to turn the U.S.A into Brazil. Great.What an improvement.

  • Anonymous

    The first stores the Rodney King rioters broke into were the liquor stores. Breaking into liquor stores is right out of the insurrectionist’s manual.

  • Sincerely Concerned

    I agree that this article is shocking in that it blames the looting on England’s lack of volunteerism. The bookstore wasn’t touched and why? Because the looters can’t read. First, I want to point out that this is nothing but an assumption. Second, isn’t this assumption RACIST? Third, people want immediate gratification (at least looters/criminals do) and so of course they aren’t going to target a place like Waterstone. Finally, yes, it’s typical that liberal, borderline-Socialist England would blame themselves for looters NOT smashing open a bookstore. I mean, we can all use hair products and tellies. But books? Sigh.

  • Anonymous

    33 — Anonymous wrote at 2:23 PM on September 21:

    “I lived in Rio de Janeiro in eighties right by the beach. When I would walk along the sand the only thing I saw anyone reading was comic books. In contrast in the U.S you see (Whites) reading all kinds of normal books for the most part.

    And they want to turn the U.S.A into Brazil. Great.What an improvement.”

    I once saw some of those comic books for sale in a store in Mexico. They are adult comics that center around the abduction, torture and rape of one white woman, always blond, after another. The ones I saw only varied a little in plot. But I only looked inside two or three of the many on the rack. I have learned that the same comic book style goes in Japan, too. In their case, it is school girls. Japanese men seem to have a penchant for underage girls in those Catholic school styled skirts.

  • Anonymous

    This is one of the poorest works of journalism I have ever read. The writer starts by saying no looting occurred at the bookstore. Then he turns it into a general rant against illiteracy. Truly bizarre.

  • Question Diversity

    36:

    Simple comic and picture books are such a distinguishing feature of Hispanic culture and societies that the Virginia Department of Health published one recently to warn recent Hispanic immigrants about American statutory rape laws. The “Fotonovela,” they call it.

  • Crystal Evans

    Maybe if they learned how to read, these young people would be able to complete their education, get a good paying job and not have to riot anymore. By the way, why not include some math tutors?

  • len

    I lived in England for decades . I came home one evening to find the pages of my books littering the street. They do sometimes destroy books just for the pleasure . The Brits are nuts , they gave away their birthright , let them rot.

  • Little Read Writting Hood

    Isn’t it the JOB of “the schools” to teach people how to read? Why should they “need” volunteers?

    On the “other page.” folks in the US should “take note!” Don’t want your store looted? Sell books!