Thursday, January 5, 2012

on George Orwell - Books v. Cigarettes

It's pretty embarrassing to say that I still haven't read '1984', but after all that stuff I read and wrote about Hitchens, I decided it was about time to pull my goddamn head out of the sand. Today I did two great things about this. The first, is that I began Books v. Cigarettes. The second, is that I finished it. 

Don't be fooled though dude, this thing is so tiny I can't even call it a real book on a clear conscience. So what it is? Penguin have this absolutely wonderful series of little mini paperback book-ish kinds of things called 'Great Ideas'. There are a total of 100 wonderful examples from lots of different writers and thinkers like Orwell and Camus and Freud and Tolstoy and Mr. Awesomeness-etcetera. They are combinations of essays and biographical anecdotes and general writings and I don't think they're supposed to be an introduction to the name behind the words, but rather a chance for some of these peoples' more kooky/cool/awesome/abstract writings to be published. I mean, that's certainly the feel I got from this #57 - Books v. Cigarettes, but #13 - The Communist Manifesto is apparently the actual manifesto by Engels and Marx, so maybe not each one has the quirkiness and loveability of the one I just devoured.

Anyways, once again, go Penguin! (They have a really amazing history and really contributed to the world as we know it now and you should totally read about it here or here.) This is easily the most brilliant collection of its kind that I've come across. Really. 

It looks and feels very nice, too. Tick the box for aesthetically pleasing. The jacket and following image (of the first 60 books in the Great Ideas series) come from these people who obviously seriously rock at what they do.
Also, they are physically very conveniently-sized. And actually I think that's the other great things about them - they are so small! And light! Like the Alexa Chung of paperbacks! You don't have to be intimidated by some big old tome that might break your bank and back. So often I gaze at those big things and just exhale loudly and think "Fuck. I'llbedeadbeforeIfinishthisthing. Whydidhehavetowritesomuchwhatadouchebag. Youknowwhat? I'mnotevengoingtostartit. HA! Seewhatyouthinkofthatyoustupidoldman." 

Trust Penguin to make the great minds of the world even more accessible to kiddy pleb brains like me (and you). It worries me to consider how much money I might accumulatively spend on them all. But totally worth it of course.

Which, in fact, brings me to what this particular one is about. The blurb reads as follows:

Beginning with a dilemma about whether he spends more money on reading or smoking, George Orwell's entertaining and uncompromising essays go on to explore everything from the perils of second-hand bookshops to the dubious profession of being a critic, from freedom of press to what patriotism really means.

It's a pretty decent description of the first 64 pages, which contain six different short essays and anecdotes. And they are certainly entertaining - don't get worried about this being a boring or dry read, people, he is funny and witty and totally cool in all the right places. I have scribbled notes ALL OVER these pages and for me that's a good sign. The last 60-or-so pages actually contain a nicely long (but obviously not actually very long) bibliographical passage about Orwell's life as a child in boarding school - and it's absolutely fascinating.

My favourite of those first six passages is a tie between 'Bookshop Memories' and 'Confessions of a Book Reviewer' which are the two lighter pieces for sure, but the serious stuff in 'The Prevention of Literature' and 'My Country Right or Left' are both just as readable. This is what he says about stamp collectors in the Bookshop Memories passage which is inspired by the time he spent working in a book shop:

We sold second-hand typewriters, for instance, and also stamps - used stamps, I mean. Stamp-collectors are a strange, silent, fish-like breed, of all ages, but only of the male sex; women, apparently, fail to see the peculiar charm of gumming bits of coloured paper into albums.

What the hell does he mean by "fish-like"?

I feel like this little booky thing is really the most perfect example of Orwell I could have asked for. It's like a delicious bruschetta entree - leaving the eater both satisfied and yet cravingly excited for more. I predict 1984 will be the most delicious kind of spaghetti imaginable. I'm serious. I think this Orwell guy might be the literary equivalent of spaghetti. I'M SO FUCKING EXCITED!!!

But yeah, the last thing I want to say is that this little Books v. Cigarettes thing is really full of incredible insights and lovely humor. It's the perfection introduction and/or companion to a wider appreciation of Orwell and I think you should all read it. 

Also I had a bit of a cold but I'm feeling much better now thank you very much.

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