Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book: Books vs Cigarettes by George Orwell

This little collection of Orwell's essays was a joy to read, especially the first three essays which all concerned the world of books. There is a wonderful accounting of the cost of books compared to the cost of cigarettes, reminiscenes of Orwell's time working in a bookshop, and a discussion of the horrid life of a book reviewer. "My Country Right or Left" is also a particularly interesting essay, observing that while great events may be occuring around us, our real memories at the time will probably be of smaller things of more greater import. For example, writing of the final period of the war, when Orwell was a child, he says "if you ask me to say truthfully what is my chief memory, I must answer simply - margarine." It is only afterwards, with the shaping influence of movies and books that our memories of the grander picture is truly formed.

As always, Orwell's strikingly clear prose is a joy in itself.

**** (many of Orwell's essays can be read here for free)


On reading:
"There are books that one reads over and over again, books that part of the furniture of the one's mind and alter one's whole attitude to life"
- for me these books include Don Quixote by Cervates and Candide by Voltaire. P.G Wodehouse also features.

On losing the passion for book buying after working in a book-shop:
"Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can’t borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles."

On memories and history:
"Contrary to popular belief, the past was not more eventful than the present. If it seems so it is because when you look backward things that happened years apart are telescoped together, and because very few of your memories come to you genuinely virgin. It is largely because of the books, films and reminiscences that have come between that the war of 1914-18 is now supposed to have had some tremendous, epic quality that the present one lacks."

"I spent the years 1922-7 mostly among men a little older than myself who had been through the war. They talked about it unceasingly, with horror, of course, but also with a steadily growing nostalgia. You can see this nostalgia perfectly clearly in the English war-books"

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