Why I Write

whyiwriteTitle: Why I Write

Author: George Orwell

Summary: Whether puncturing the lies of politicians, wittily dissecting the English character or telling unpalatable truths about war, Orwell’s timeless, uncompromising essays are more relevant, entertaining and essential than ever in today’s era of spin.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I loved this book. It actually took me by surprise how enormously i enjoyed it, but i loved this book. I picked it up recently on a whim as a last minute purchase from a secondhand bookshop, and started reading it on a train journey when it was the only book i had easily accessible. For an impulse purchase and a last resort read, this book impressed me spectacularly.

I excepted this to be a simple, easy read about Orwell’s motivations and techniques when it comes to writing. It was actually a lot more. In the first essay his focus is on the writing, including, as he sees it, the main motives for writing and the general disposition of any writer. That’s where the simple stuff that most people will expect ends, though. Right there on page 10. The remaining 110 pages are where things get interesting.

The second, and longest, essay is easily my favourite. Though i can see if you’re not a politically inclined Briton it might not strike with the same energy. Orwell describes Britain and British sentiment and nationality as a context for its politics, before diving right into the politics and the second world war (which was happening around him as he wrote). It is brilliant, and there is no doubt the points he’s making are still relevant today. I underlined a lot of quotes. Most that stuck as incredibly pertinent to current politics, others that were simply magnificent insults, and on the best occasions they were both!

I’ve never found myself quite so into politics. Of course, i keep up to date with what’s going on and have strong-to-vehement opinions on it all, but this was the first time i remember being truly engaged on the right level. I think it helps that Orwell comes at it from a good angle. That angle being it’s a fucking mess and a hell of a lot more needs to change than simply the party in power. He’s my kind of reasonable (which is to say, perhaps, not at all)–he’s equally insulting and fed up of it all. He’s not pushing for a particular agenda or trying to persuade anyone of anything, just stating the facts as he sees them, and his opinion on where and how things are fucked up and unfair.

I can’t quote all my underlining (at least not in this review…), but i’ll include one that speaks broadly to one of the larger issues:

“…no one genuinely wanted any major change to happen. The Labour leaders wanted to go on and on, drawing their salaries and periodically swapping jobs with the Conservatives.”

The last essay focuses on politics in relation to language, and how meaningless speeches and literature can become when vague and inflated. A piece of writing that uses long words and fancy-sounding turns of phrase might seem impressive, but if you really pay attention to it, it isn’t saying anything at all. Seeing the examples Orwell gives, how he picks them apart, and comparing it to his own straight-forward way of writing really made me stop and consider my own writing style. (I’m feeling a little apprehensive about this review, to say the least!)

Some reviews i read from people who did not enjoy this book as thoroughly as I did claim it’s not about why Orwell writes, and I’m left wondering if they’ve ever read any of his other books. Animal Farm, 1984… politics is why he writes. Reading him talk in such an honest and straightforward manner about his political views was thrilling. Without the metaphors and refined prose of a fictional narrative Orwell is sharp, witty, and on point. I could have coped with this book being twice as long, honestly.

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TTT: Authors

TTTI found this one pretty easy. There aren’t too many authors I read just because—without knowing more about the book itself. My original list had about 13 names, and it wasn’t too hard to cut that down to 10. These authors are ten names that have me reading any book by without question.

Christopher Brookmyre – Comedy, crime, satire, well-rounded characters. The day a Brookmyre book doesn’t make me laugh out loud will be a very sad day indeed (and a day that will never happen).

John Wyndham – Insightful science fiction. This man has not written a word I haven’t loved.

Patrick deWitt – I can’t even categorise deWitt’s genre… sharp, witty contemporary. Is that a thing? With only two books written, i’m already 100% hooked.

Stephen King – Horror. As King has said himself: he is the literary equivalent of a bigmac and fries. It’s not the most nutritious meal, and you don’t want to eat it every day, but it’s bloody tasty when you have it.

Shirley Jackson – Horror. Jackson is more classic horror. More chills and meaning. More genuinely scary.

William Golding – Another author who is hard to pigeon hole, because his subject matter and message vary so much from book to book. He is consistently well-written and interesting, though.

George Orwell – Intelligent, insightful and ahead of his time. I’ve only read a couple of Orwell’s books so far, but I look forward to more.

Aldous Huxley – I file Huxley close to Orwell, but not because of Brave New World and 1984, as you might expect. Mostly because they strike me as two people who would have interesting conversations—they both have worthwhile and intelligent things to say.

J D Salinger – Some authors are just in a genre of their own, and I think Salinger is one. He has such a way with words, so simple, but so unique for his characters. He gets across concepts and personality so swiftly that it looks easy.

Ursula Le Guin – Science fiction that holds such imagination and exploration. I adore Le Guin a lot. I can’t get enough of her work, and hold very high—and possibly unfair—expectations of her.

TTT: Quotes

TTTI am all over this week’s topic. I love quotes. I love it when a short section, thought, moment or phrase from a book just stands out to me. When something makes me stop, makes me smile, makes me go, “Yes!” Or causes me to pause and think, and wonder and alter my thought process. I love it when something, some feeling, some concept, is summed up so neatly in a handful of words.

I am slightly obsessed with quotes, and more of my favourites can be found at my goodreads account or my twitter.

I usually expound upon my choices for Top Ten Tuesdays, but this week I am going to stand by the wise words of my dearest Zellaby, and let the quotes speak for themselves…

“Some quotations,” said Zellaby, “are greatly improved by lack of context.”

― John Wyndham, The Midwich Cuckoos

“Naturally, I never told him I thought he was a terrific whistler. I mean you don’t just go up to somebody and say, ‘You’re a terrific whistler.’”

― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

“Of course, I’m being rude. I’m spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it. I have given you two events in advance, because I don’t have much interest in building mystery. Mystery bores me. It chores me. I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me. There are many things to think of. There is much story.”

― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

“He would say that God had given him a tail to keep the flies off, but that he would sooner have no tail and no flies.”

― George Orwell, Animal Farm

“A fool tries to look different: a clever man looks the same and is different.”

― John Buchan, The 39 Steps

“Proud and insolent youth,” said Hook, “prepare to meet thy doom.”
“Dark and sinister man,” Peter answered, “have at thee.”

― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan and Wendy

“Fear,” the doctor said, “is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.”

― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

“If you read one book a week, starting at the age of 5, and live to be 80, you will have read a grand total of 3,900 books, a little over one-tenth of 1 percent of the books currently in print.”

― Lewis Buzbee, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History

“Have you got any soul?” a woman asks the next afternoon. That depends, I feel like saying; some days yes, some days no. A few days ago I was right out; now I’ve got loads, too much, more than I can handle. I wish I could spread it a bit more evenly, I want to tell her, get a better balance, but I can’t seem to get it sorted. I can see she wouldn’t be interested in my internal stock control problems though, so I simply point to where I keep the soul I have, right by the exit, just next to the blues.”

― Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

“If you expect nothing from anybody, you’re never disappointed.”

― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Animal Farm

anifarTitle: Animal Farm

Author: George Orwell

Summary: The animals on a farm drive out their master and take over and administer the farm for themselves. The experiment is entirely successful, except for the fact that someone has to take the deposed farmer’s place. Leadership devolves almost automatically upon the pigs, who are on a higher intellectual level than the rest of the animals. Unhappily their character is not equal to their intelligence, and out of this fact springs the main development of the story. The last chapter brings a dramatic change, which, as soon as it has happened, is seen to have been inevitable from the start.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This was one of those books i always figured i’d get around to reading eventually, but never consciously made the effort to. For whatever reason, one day, i saw it in a charity shop and i bought it. Then, after the monster that was the last book i read, i thought a little 120 page book that i was almost guaranteed to love would be an excellent chaser. It was.

I’m not really sure how to review this book, though. Written as an allegory of the Soviet Union, it can, and does, also provide insight into politics and class and society in general, that is still (and will always be) relevant today. It is written in a very simply language, which makes it hard to misinterpret. I can’t do a better job than Orwell does himself at explaining what this book is about. It’s a bloody masterpiece, really.

The pigs are nasty, selfish, lying sods who abuse the other animals. The other animals are short-sighted, naive, simpletons who don’t even realise they’re being abused. I feel immense pity for the lot of them, really. There was pretty much only one character i really liked. Old Benjamin is truly my spirit animal. Getting on with life, taking it as it comes, seeing it all, but knowing real change is an impossibility. Cynical to the core, Old Benjamin has already made it on to my short list of best characters ever.

It’s so short, you could read this book inside of an hour, if you wanted, and i strongly recommend you do. This is definitely one of those books i would recommend to everyone. Though, it would seem the high majority of people who dislike the book, are those that were forced to read it at school, which is a terrible pity.

For such a simply, short book, it made me think, pull grim faces in acknowledgement of awful truths and nod sagely along with Old Benjamin.

This is the eight book i’ve read from my Classics Club list.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: A modern classic, a banned book and non-human characters.

TTT: Classics

TTT My second Top Ten Tuesday in a row. This is not what i had planned… but, but, but, classics! When i enter a bookshop, “cassic literature” is always the section i head to first. Unless i feel like enjoying the anticipation, in which case i’ll save it till last… Either way, the point is it’s my favourite section. I don’t know why. It’s not that more modern books aren’t good, or that i don’t enjoy them. I do, often. There are just SO MANY new books, i can’t keep up with what’s being released when by who and what else did they write? I just don’t seem to care enough. The classics–the classic classics, not the “modern” classics, never change. They will always be there, no matter if i take my sweet time getting around to reading them.

With my love of classics in mind, here is a random list (and really, it was really hard to make this random and not organise it in some way!) of 10 that i particularly love…

 

class01

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I haven’t read much Oscar Wilde. A few short stories and Dorian Gray. And i adored Dorian Gray. Actually, i adored Lord Henry, but whatever.

 

 

class02

 

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
I bought this on a whim when i saw it in a charity shop and devoured it in a day. I loved the concepts and imagination. Pity i didn’t have the same feeling about War of the Worlds.

 

 

1637352

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I loved the original 1963 film, so when i found out it was based on a book, of course i had to read it. Both book and film are creepily atmospheric while leaving the ending open enough for the reader to come to her own conclusions.

 

 

class04

Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
I wanted to say this will never be surpassed at the ultimate dystopian, particularly in terms of ‘this could really happen/this is already happening’… but to be fair, i read this over 10 years ago, and i don’t trust my memory enough. I remember enough to know i loved this book, though.

 

 

class05

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This book isn’t perfect, but any negatives are overshadowed by the amazingness of the entire rest of the book. It was so refreshing to read a lot of what was discussed in this book. I would make this compulsory reading for every human alive, if i could.

 

 

class06The Seeds of Time by John Wyndham
Absolutely any John Wyndham book could have been included in this list. There isn’t a word the man has written that i haven’t loved (not that i’ve actually read them all yet–i’m pacing myself!). Picking this one felt like a cheat, because it’s a book of short stories; it felt like i was adding more Wyndham than choosing a novel would have done.

 

 

class07The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This one i didn’t love instantly; I hated it the first time i tried to read it. But the second time was so completely different. I loved Salinger’s understated writing style. He doesn’t give everything away, and makes the reader work a little. And Holden Caulfield is so simplistically philosophical, it was hard not to like him.

 

 

class08
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
This was my first Christie and my first Poirot. I picked this one because i already knew and loved the who, how and why. Turns out i love smart and egotistic detectives, and Poirot has become a firm favourite.

 

 

clas09Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I had wanted to read and study this at school, but my class did An Inspector Calls, instead. I eventually read this of my own accord many years later and loved it. So many concepts being explored under the premise of a group of children fending for themselves on a deserted island. I found it fascinating!

 

 

PP&WPeter Pan and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
This was a classic i had been long overdue in reading by the time i got around to it. All my life i knew i was the namesake of Peter Pan’s friend, but never did i bother picking up the book that made my name popular. I’m glad i eventually did. And i think i got more out of this book about the essence of childhood as an adult than i ever would have in my youth.