Monday, 10 September 2012

Books V. Cigarettes


Yesterday - a Sunday void of any agenda - I decided to nest under summer's last breaths of warm air and make a start Orwell's collection of essays, 'Books V. Cigarettes'. If that sounds crazily self-indulgent, I can confirm that it was. I didn't move for hours and it was bloody marvellous. Incredibly engaging, I'd finished before the sun had left the sky.

I had the book on my wish list for a while, enticed in by the bold, mid-century print and intriguing title. It's the title's subject that dominates the first essay of the book, in which Orwell, prompted by an 1940s factory worker's exclaimation that, "Chaps like us don't spent twelve and sixpence on a book," attempts to evaluate whether or not reading books is an expensive hobby. Orwell, then goes on to comment that these are men that think nothing of spending a couple of pounds on a day trip to Blackpool, as well as analysing his own expenditure (£20 a year on books, £40 a year on cigs & alcohol... hear, hear!)

It's a subject that resonates with me, as it's something I've often thought about. Studying English Lit, leaves a girl with two things: a) a flipload of Blackwells rewards points and b) a rather vast book collection. Eighty per cent of which, I probably haven't opened up since their first (mandatory) reading.

The logistics of housing such a collection is quite frankly, a pain in the posterior and I'm sad to say they're all currently crammed into storage boxes while I'm in between houses. However, I don't think I'll ever be able to throw away a single one.  Additionally if like Orwell, I analysed my expenditure on books, in relation to how much I spend on clothes, going out etc, I'd probably actually feel like I need to balance the scales by buying more books! I'm sold.

The essay which I found the most enjoyable to read was 'Confessions of a Book Reviewer.' A delightful and very witty insight into the daily routine of a literary reviewer. Orwell hilariously describes the desperation of a disheveled reviewer, disillusioned by the reality of his career and stuck in an endless cycle of procrastination and demotivation. And of course, the fear-induced inspiration that wills the review to be written & completed, in the final moments before the deadline. It's a roller coaster of emotions I can most certainly sympathise. Also, for some reason, I kept picturing the reviewer as the scientist from the film, Wonderwall, (this guy). Made me chuckle.

The last third of the book is a big of a slog, dedicated to Orwell's recollections of his time spent at a public prep school. Unlike the other chapters, it's pretty long and reads like pre-war working class literature; detailing the hardships, the unnecessary cruelty from adults to minors, and predicaments caused by differences in social status & class. The tone is less comical than the rest but interesting nonetheless...if you're a fan of bleak things and teenage self-pity.

If you fancy taking a metaphorical meander through his work, Orwell's essays are available to read online, here. Go, go, go.

| Lauren
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