The Ask: Arts funding
The only thing I usually buy in pairs is jeans when, on rare and thrilling occasion, I find some that fit - or when the supermarket is pushing through a two-for-one promotion on electric-toothbrush heads.
Books are normally a single-unit purchase. But in this instance, I bought one copy for me and one for Jeremy Hunt, the recently-installed secretary of state for culture.
It is rammed with ideas, comment and stories all written in the sort of ultra-contemporary prose that makes it a certainty for future academic study and creative-writing courses where it will be appropriated and then deconstructed by earnest intellectuals. I hope Mr Hunt enjoys it. I did, but that's not why I got him the book.
The setting is a New York university's fund-raising department where Milo Burke works as an ineffective development executive - development is the term used in not-for-profit organisations for raising money from rich individuals.
The book's title is American fund-raiser-speak for the quarry: the banker, the rich widow, the beneficiary of a will or the grateful alumnus. If "the ask" is successful and the wealthy person pays for a new computer room or an outreach programme, he or she becomes "the give".
The book begins with prostitution as metaphor - in that trade, as in "the ask", both parties play a role. The development officer fawns over, flatters and subjugates himself to potential donor to such an extent that self-respect is jettisoned as excess baggage. Meanwhile the ask basks.
Mr Hunt might be interested in The Ask because he has said he wants to import American-style philanthropy to help mitigate against autumn's government cuts in what he describes as "a horrible period for arts and cultural funding".
The vast majority of people to whom I have spoken about importing the American philanthropic model feel that it's a non-starter. It is not, they say, that we're above grovelling to a stubbly oligarch or a conceited hedge-fund guy: we can do that with the same fraudulent gusto as Milo Burke. It is, they tell me, overt or apparent "tackiness" that we baulk at, as David Puttnam told me last week on the News at Ten.
Mind you, everybody also said that philanthropy is a good thing and welcomed a governmental initiative to encourage more giving. If someone is feeling a bit socially unacceptable for having too much dosh, the arts institutions are always very happy to help assuage his or her guilt by exchanging free tickets, private views and a titillating coffee with an intellectual grandee for as little as 10 grand.
What they won't do - where the line is not so much drawn as sculpted into their sense of artistic integrity - is countenance any interference whatsoever in their programmes.
They consider being able to chose which play, exhibition, concert or ballet gets put on as a fundamental right of the artistic director.
No amount of coercion or cash will shift the director's stance; if it did, his or her institution would be deemed morally and artistically bankrupt - although financially much better off.
Unlike in the American model, that is a price British artistic institutions are currently unwilling to pay, whatever the ask.