Sunday, March 15, 2009

Books v. cigarettes



George Orwell's Books v. cigarettes is a recent volume in Penguin's "Great Ideas" series. I'm a fan of Orwell's essays and, between the eye-catching title and the old-style Penguin cover design, I couldn't resist this slim volume of them. It contains a couple of my favourites, including "Confessions of a Book Reviewer," which I've quoted from here in past posts, and some I'd never read before, such as the title essay, "Books v. cigarettes." In the latter, Orwell sets out to prove that the buying and reading of books is not "an expensive hobby" that is "beyond the reach of the average person." I don't think it will ruin the suspense to tell you that he succeeds, and that he makes many entertaining observations along the way. Here's a snippet:

It is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books and the value one gets out of them. 'Books' includes novels, poetry, textbooks, works of reference, sociological treatises and much else, and length and price do not correspond to one another, especially if one habitually buys books second-hand. You may spend ten shillings on a poem of 500 lines, and you may spend sixpence on a dictionary which you consult at odd moments over a period of twenty years. There are books that one reads over and over again, books that become part of the furniture of one's mind and alter one's whole attitude to life, books that one dips into but never reads through, books that one reads at a single sitting and forgets a week later: and the cost in terms of money, may be the same in each case.

That final bit would make a fine meme don't you think? List: 1. A book you read over and over again; 2. A book that has become part of the furniture of your mind and has altered your whole attitude to life; 3. A book that you dip into but never read through; and, 4. A book that you read at a single sitting and forgot a week later. I'll have to think a bit on which book or books I'd list under each category. In the meantime though, I recommend Orwell's Books v. cigarettes as a book for dipping into and reading all the way through (and I note that at $9.99 Canadian, it doesn't cost much more than a pack of cigarettes!).

9 comments:

bloglily said...

I'm in. I mean, as a Slow Blogger, I'm in a week from now! (I know you won't mind, dear Kate.) I love this cover, and I had no idea Orwell's essays were so good. I can't wait to read these. xo

Julie said...

Good one, Kate. Actually, I think the most interesting answers might come from number 3...

I was thinking of you earlier today, by the way. Your idea of "signpost" books, which you wrote about, oh, ages ago, has really stuck with me. As I was walking the dog and listening to my iPod it occurred to me that there are signpost albums too -- albums that maybe aren't part of "the furniture of your mind," but in some way changed the way you listen to music. Anyway, I'm sorry for rambling, but when I read your post just now it reminded me. :-)

priscilla said...

Kate, that would be an excellent meme. I'm going to have to think about the answers. I'm also going to have to pick up Orwell's book!

(And I agree with Julie--this logic works for albums as well...)

litlove said...

How interesting - I recently bought Orwell's Down and Out In London and Paris, as I wanted to read some of his non-fiction. Only problem is I'm currently reading Gertrude Stein writing about Paris in the same era, so there will have to be a break before I can get to it, or I won't do it justice. But yes, I'm very keen to read Orwell and that's a great meme!

Melody Marie Murray said...

List:
1. A book you read over and over again:
The Lord of the Rings- I think I keep going back to it because there is always something new. When I was 14 it was glory and adventure. When I was 17 it was True Love. When I was 25 it was duty and perseverance. When I was 35 it was loyalty and the love which transcends. It's all there, couched in music and sonorous prose.

2. A book that has become part of the furniture of your mind and has altered your whole attitude to life:
It's hard to whittle this down to one. Today I'll cite Songs for the Blue Ocean by Carl Safina which opened my eyes to the grim realities of overfishing and gave me to understand much about the world that I only thought I grokked before. I find bits of this book floating up at the oddest times, in the most unlikely places. Honorable mention to A Wizard of Earthsea by Le Guin and All the Mowgli Stories by Kipling, both of which taught me much of what I know about being human.

3. A book that you dip into but never read through:
A History of Western Trees by Donald Culross Peattie. A man who knew trees as intimately as your chiropractor knows your bones. His pure and crystalline love infuses every word. It's a book I can't finish, because when I finish it there will be no more of those words left to discover. I'd like to arrange to read the last entry on my deathbed, if that's at all possible.

4. A book that you read at a single sitting and forgot a week later:
Sadly, most of 'em. Most recently there's been a wave of forgettable books, including The Silver Cup by Constance Leeds, The Unlikely Lavender Queen by Jeannie Ralston and Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell.

Suko said...

What a thoughtful post! The comments are also astute. It would take me a year and a day to come up with my list of books.

Seachanges said...

I like Orwell's writing, after all, he wrote 1984, but in the distant past I also read some of his essays. Will definitely get a copy of this book. As far as the meme is concerned, I need to think about that and give it some time...

Dorothy W. said...

I adore Orwell's essays, so this is a collection I absolutely must have! Thanks for writing about it.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me what essays are there. As i heard total amout is 5 and one is books vs. cigarettes. What are the others?