Orwell On Books…

In two of his essays Books vs. Cigarretes and Bookshop Memories George Orwell tells us what he thinks about books. Me being a bibliophile could relate to many things he said.

He says out of the 900 odd books he has, around 500 are bought second-hand. While most of mine are second hand.

The idea that the buying, or even the reading, of books is an expensive hobby and beyond the reach of the average person is so  widespread that it deserves some detailed examination.

Even now I know of people who get and give weird reactions to the sight of books, as if they are something ugly and avoidable.

This is because book-giving, book-borrowing and book-stealing more or less even out.

Well may be in the long run it is indeed true. I have lost many books, but there are may be more with me which belong to others, but which I did not steal. But many just ended up being with me.

It is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books and the value one gets out of them. “Books” includes novels, poetry, text books, 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. But if one regards reading simply as a recreation, like going to the pictures, then it is possible to make a rough estimate of what it costs.

Here I see an analogy between books and humans (or is it the other way round?). Just as he describes different types of books, some of which we just dip into, some we savour for our lives, some we just refer maybe once in a while, so are our human contacts, some are just hi-bye types, some we share our intimate moments with, some we just meet once in our lives, but they are unforgettable, some we just forget, and others we want to forget. Seen in this way at another level, books are just ideas that are present in them, so are the humans we come in contact with (though at times the physical intimacy is better, (but isn’t physical intimacy also an idea)). Some people we make our heroes, some books give us our philosophy of life. Some people give us sound advice, many books save us from despair. Books are actually people who talk to us, make us experience things we would otherwise not experience, isn’t the same true of people also. But of course there are crap books and there are crap people.

If you concentrated on more serious books, and still bought everything that you read, your expenses would be about the same. The books would cost more but they would take longer to read. In either case you would still possess the books after you had read them, and they would be saleable at about a third of their purchase price. If you bought only second-hand books, your reading expenses would, of course, be much less: perhaps sixpence an hour would be a fair estimate.

I never sold my books, and hopefully will never need to.

And if our book consumption remains as low as it has been, at least let us admit that it is because reading is a less
pastime than going to the dogs, the pictures or the pub, and not  because books, whether bought or borrowed, are too expensive.

And he ends Bookshop Memories thus

But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. 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.

I hope I do not end up doing the same. For now I think I am maybe making a transition from bibliophilia to bibliomania.

For a comprehensive list of Orwell’s works see: http://orwell.ru

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