Thursday, March 1, 2012

Reading Orwell

Orwell (the tall guy) getting an incompetent machine gun
lesson in the Spanish Civil War
For Christmas this year I was given The Collected Essays of George Orwell in the lovely Everyman edition which comes in at a staggering 1363 pages. I don't know how much this book cost because it was a present but I should say straight away that it is definitely value for money. The essays cover the period from 1934 - 1949 but they feel strangely up to date. Orwell seldom blunders in his judgements of contemporary writers and politicians. His reading and range is vast and his prose style is impeccable. I had read a few of Orwell's essays before and there are some great ones available online for example: Such Such Were The Joys and Inside The Whale, but I do recommend that you get this book. It's a nice object to have and it will give you hours of edification and entertainment. I was never bored during the 1300 pages and was frequently surprised and on a couple of occasions I laughed out loud. Obviously Orwell hits the odd dry patch now and again but more often he goes through periods when everything he wrote was gilded with genius. One such period was February 1946 when he managed to produce five of his most iconic essays one after the other: Bad Climates Are Best (about how you get nothing done when the weather is nice), Books v Cigarettes, The Moon Under The Water (about the perfect pub), The Decline of the English Murder (about how murderers used to be better in the good old days), Words and Henry Miller. A few weeks earlier Orwell wrote his famous piece on preparing the perfect cup of tea and only a few months later he wrote his deadly accurate and hilarious: Confessions of a Book Reviewer. 
If you liked Christopher Hitchens's collection Arguably then I can't recommend the Everyman Orwell highly enough. If you didn't like Arguably then I'm sorry Mr. Chomsky or Mr. Cockburn this isn't the book for you.