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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Books, Cigarettes, and Other Vices
When George Orwell's diaries were released online as a daily blog, beginning about a year ago and still ongoing, I remembered how much I enjoyed his essays and how long it had been since I'd read any of them. I was reminded of The Road to Wigan Pier when I recently read The Road to Southend Pier: One Man's Struggle Against the Surveillance Society, about the recent...
Published on 5 Aug 2009 by takingadayoff

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No point in buying this if you already have Shooting an Elephant
Anthology of short stories, essays and criticism. All very amusing, easy read and lots of ideas - but it's missing some of his best stuff - other collections are better value.
Published 19 months ago by PeterS


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Books, Cigarettes, and Other Vices, 5 Aug 2009
By 
takingadayoff "takingadayoff" (Las Vegas, Nevada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
When George Orwell's diaries were released online as a daily blog, beginning about a year ago and still ongoing, I remembered how much I enjoyed his essays and how long it had been since I'd read any of them. I was reminded of The Road to Wigan Pier when I recently read The Road to Southend Pier: One Man's Struggle Against the Surveillance Society, about the recent proliferation of closed-circuit TV cameras throughout Britain. Very Big Brother-ish.

So when I saw Books v. Cigarettes on a display with others from the Penguin Great Ideas series, I grabbed it. Not only was I looking forward to reading the book-related essays of Orwell, but the design of the book itself is a delight. A smidgen taller and wider than a mass market paperback and considerably thinner, the cover evokes the old Penguins of the mid 20th century, right down to the price printed on the upper right hand corner : 3'/6. The cover is rough, not slick, with subtly embossed lettering. I love it.

There are only six essays here, 126 pages. Orwell gets off to a good start by taking to task those who complain that books cost too much. He compares the cost of the books he's bought over the years with the amount he's spent on booze and cigarettes, and finds that even with his above-average book consumption, books cost less than other vices. Essays about bookselling and book reviewing follow, then one about the British Left's lukewarm support for freedom of the press. According to Orwell, the Left's support of Soviet Russia made them overlook little things like censorship.

The final three essays are not really book-related at all. Following a 1940 essay about the coming war, there's a description of the miserable time Orwell spent in a hospital for the poor in Paris, then a long essay (nearly half the entire book) of his miserable time as a boy at boarding school.

I don't think I would recommend this volume as a good introduction to the essays of Orwell - Shooting an Elephant: And Other Essays would be a better choice. But for those looking to read a few favorites in an attractive new edition, this is just the ticket.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant surprise, 2 July 2011
By 
A. Paradise - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
I'm not a big fan of Orwell's books, that is to say I dislike his style. They are of course good books but they all seem to follow the same rhythm, most ending in an inevitably depressing fashion that loses its power in its over use. However, this collection of essays where a joy to read. Reflective, brutally honest and a sign of a man who truly thought for himself. His condemnation of the useful idiots who blindly spouted the propaganda line of the soviet union and other hacks is a message still relivent to our time, and his reflection on his time at school makes interesting reading. On the topic of his time in public school, I couldn't help but draw comparisons (in the contrast) to Peter Hitchens' description in 'The Rage Against God'. While Hitchens seems to find no fault in his experience of education (a suspicious lack of criticism if truth be told, I suspect him to be one of those people who has forgotten all the problems of the past and is constantly comparing their fantasy of how things were to an overly negative version of today) Orwell gives a warts and all account of suffering the fate of being considered second rate in a elitist and hypocritical institution.

Well worth reading, and at the price its being offered you'd be mad not to give it a go.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended, 2 Nov 2009
By 
AK (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
Excellent collection of essays from Orwell. It includes reminiscences from his youth as well as reporting of sorts of the then current political affairs, linked to literary creation. While the former benefit from the perspective accorded from looking back at them decades later, the latter, written as it were while things were happening provide a very interesting insight into the thinking of the time, unfiltered by the need to fit the experience / views into some pre-formed theories. Many of the musings would be considered valid and up to date even now, which is not an impression one gets by reading historical accounts of the period of ~1930-1946 reading other accounts. As good essays tend to, the author is not out to present a comprehensive analysis of the topics being written about - it is more a passionate, fairly one sided but still strongly compelling argument that is being presented but this is really done with some mastery. Highly recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Choose books every time!, 16 Feb 2014
By 
Sam Quixote - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
Books v. Cigarettes is another fine collection of selected essays by George Orwell in the Penguin Great Ideas series, this one focusing on books, literature in harsh political regimes, patriotism, his time in a run-down hospital in France, and his memoirs of going to a private boarding school.

Books v. Cigarettes is a somewhat laborious essay where Orwell explains that working class people read fewer books and choose books over things like cigarettes, beer and gambling, not because the habit is expensive but because they’re not interested in it - contrary to their claims that it is. He mathematically works it out and, while I agree that he’s probably right, it’s a bit of a pedantic essay to read.

Bookshop Memories and Confessions of a Book Reviewer are definitely my favourite essays here as I’m a bibliophile. Orwell spent some time working as a bookseller and his observations from that time are very entertaining. He observes that few customers in the shop could tell the difference between a good book and a bad one, that their clientele were mostly foreign students haggling over cheap textbooks and “vague-minded women looking for birthday presents for their nephews”.

There’s even a line about a “dear old lady who read such a nice book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn’t remember the title or the author’s name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover” that reminded me of Jen Campbell’s “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops” which shows how little people have changed in nearly 100 years.

It was interesting to find out the three most-read authors of the time were: Ethel M. Dell at #1, Warwick Deeping at #2 and Jeffrey Farnol at #3 - all authors I’ve never heard of, and I consider myself fairly well-read. I suppose in a few decades people will be wondering who the hell James Patterson and Stephenie Meyer were, which is a reassuring thought that such crap gets forgotten!

These essays display Orwell’s good sense of humour as he observes “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”, and his description of the life of a professional book reviewer was very amusing. His line that “Until one has some kind of professional relationship with books one does not discover how bad the majority of them are” rang true for me as a semi-professional book reviewer.

The Prevention of Literature explains how great literature or any art form cannot exist in a regime that disallows freedom of thought or religion which gives us the great quote: “To write in plain, vigorous language one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly one cannot be politically orthodox”. That said, I felt the essay was something that Orwell had written about before and better elsewhere and was therefore a bit tiresome to read. Similarly unengaging was My Country Right Or Left which goes into Orwell’s patriotism of Britain, regardless of the kind of government in charge.

How The Poor Die was a visceral recounting of Orwell’s time in a French hospital for the poor where he was being treated for a bronchial infection - Orwell suffered with breathing problems his entire life as he had an untreatable lesion on his lungs which would eventually kill him at the tragically early age of 46. It’s a shocking account of the way patients’ humanity is overlooked by uncaring doctors who are more interested in treating them as living cadavers than real people who need help.

The volume closes out with Orwell’s excellent essay, Such, Such Were The Joys, which recounts his unpleasant time spent at St Cyprian’s, an upper-class boarding school which he attended on a scholarship and deeply loathed.

Books v. Cigarettes contains a couple of essays that I was ambivalent about but on the whole it contains his usual insightful commentary and uncanny ability to draw the reader into the subject matter completely. Orwell is always worth reading for his high quality writing, crystal clear thinking, and challenging subject matter that he makes accessible for the reader, but this volume is especially enjoyable if you’re a bookish sort of person.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Books v. Cigarettes, 1 Nov 2013
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
This slim volume contains six essays which may make you smile, possibly make you sad and will certainly make you think. Orwell muses on how much he spends on books, recollects his time working in a bookshop and on being seriously ill in a Paris hospital, considers the merits of book reviewing, the censorship of literature, patriotism and his joyless time spent as a scholarship boy at prep school.

Most of these articles were published in the late 1930's to mid 1940's, but they still have amazing relevance today. Is reading an expensive hobby? How does it measure up to other forms of entertainment? Is there still, as Orwell said, an rarity of `bookish' people? Certainly many book reviews or book prizes can be said to be judged by those who care little for what they are reading and censorship is still in place - a disturbing amount of books are banned worldwide each year. The longest essay concerns Orwell's school days and much that he found oppressive - bullying and cramming for exams, are still issues that concern many. These are refreshing to read, full of opinions and enthusiasm and are certain to provoke discussion if chosen by any reading group.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What a wonderful book, 12 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
What a wonderful book. Seven essays - all of which are interesting, insightful and readable - and it definitely saves the best until last...

As with so much of his work the final essay, "Such, Such Were The Joys", an account of Orwell's school days, combines the personal with the polemical. One minute we're reading a wince-inducing account of the brutality of St Cyprians (Orwell's prep school) and the next this meanders into social history, philosophy and a deconstruction of the pre-WW1 class system. And all of it written with George Orwell's customary clarity and readability.

All the essays are interesting. In the opener, "Books v. Cigarettes", Orwell argues, in 1946, that books are a relatively cheap form of entertainment despite many people's assertions to the contrary. He compares the cost of the books he's bought over the years with the amount he's spent on beer and cigarettes, and finds that even with his relatively high book consumption, books cost less than other vices. The same must surely still apply. When Orwell wrote his essay, he states that there were 15,000 books published annually in the UK. According to Wikipedia, in 2011 there were 149,800 books published in the UK. What does that tell us? Has the market for reading expanded ten fold in the interim?

Who'd be a book reviewer if Orwell's description in "Confessions Of A Book Reviewer" is accurate? What's the value of a professional review? Worthless, according to Orwell. Still a book reviewer is better off than a film reviewer who doesn't get to work at home and sells his honour for a glass of inferior sherry

"The Prevention of Literature" makes a passionate, and when written, a topical, argument describing how totalitarianism, or other all prevailing orthodoxies, crush worthwhile literature, and how the destruction of individual liberty cripples the journalist, the sociological writer, the historian, the novelist, the critic and the poet, in that order. Imagination will not breed in captivity.

Patriotism comes under the Orwell gaze in "My Country Right or Left", and Orwell concludes that no substitute has yet been found for patriotism. He even confesses to a faint feeling of sacrilege when he does not to stand to attention during God Save The King.

The penultimate essay "How the Poor Die" is a real eye opener. I was particularly struck how in the Parisian hospital Orwell describes in 1929, and as a non-paying patient in the uniform nightshirt, the patient is primarily a specimen. The doctors and medical students ignoring the individual and discussing the patient as if he were not there. Orwell states he did not resent this but could never get used to it.

This book is a mere 125 pages and every page contains something interesting and enlightening. Proof that good writing never dates.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting debate, 29 Jun 2013
By 
L. A. Witton - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
Orwell puts forward a fascinating argument for the greater value for money of books than cigarettes! This article is only one of several collected here. Orwell provides much food for thought in these essays.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No point in buying this if you already have Shooting an Elephant, 13 May 2013
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This review is from: Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
Anthology of short stories, essays and criticism. All very amusing, easy read and lots of ideas - but it's missing some of his best stuff - other collections are better value.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Explains the Man behind the Work, 15 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
Orwell is a character that can be examined through his work but this book dives right into the background of the person.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Papers from the forties, 8 Nov 2012
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This review is from: Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
Life in the forties was different but detailed expositions of the daily grind of the book reviewer or the observations of labourers are food for thought. School life prior to Eton was very class conscious to the point of bullying by the staff. A different time but it may all just be round the corner if there's a change in attitude..
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Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas)
Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) by George Orwell (Paperback - 7 Aug 2008)
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