It might be obvious to the more dedicated writer, but I have learnt something today that I believe needs to be shared. It does seem an obvious statement: if you are continuously alert, if your eyes and ears are permanently engaged it may save a significant amount of time in your next attempt to craft a credible and attractive opening paragraph for your post, article, essay etc. I entered the local library with a firm subject idea but the usual vagueness persisted about how to begin. I have had the urge to write this for some weeks now but lacking the inspiration, like a fire lacks the initial spark, nothing has taken shape. My entering into the library was not influenced by a sudden and decided inclination to write, but to aimlessly meander as one often does in public libraries. As I snaked through the dozens of metallic cabinets that house thousands of mostly tattered, second-hand books I found myself in the section where the ‘O’ authors live. My eyes were looking for one name and they were astonished by its absence. The library’s failure to provide the fictional work of George Orwell betrays its many users; mulling it over after many shakes of my head I determine it is a betrayal of the whole toswn Of course, if I were to deflate my reaction to this situation I knew it was not beyond my wit to conclude that perhaps Orwell’s work, if stocked, was out on hire but I did intend to later browse the non-fiction section to test management’s level of cultural ignorance. Their ignorance is my ignorance, too.
It is this fascination with and eagerness for Orwell’s work that is urging me to sit down and write about it. It is not just Orwell. I have developed a sudden desire to read books written by authors that have never occurred to me, and what’s more, it has led me to entirely new territory. If I were to recall my hundreds of visits to bookshops, I would estimate that all but an hour has been spent in the history and politics sections, but this imbalance has begun to alter as a rapacious desire to immerse myself in literature has uncontrollably developed. I am hungry for new and immensely bored with old. I have questioned where this appetite has been lurking since school-age. As I walked contemplating this, I heard two familiar voices in political discussion. The voices belonged to local activists of the Labour Party of which I am a member. They were talking about the unfolding Labour Party Conference and the leader’s upcoming speech. I have paid but a fraction of attention to this year’s Conference because I am flatly bored with politics. I did not have the inclination to let on to these decent people because I did not want to be engaged in political conversation. This occurrence, if you can name it as such, provided me with the spark required to sit down and write about my current discontentedness with politics and current affairs and my new aspiration for literature. I had thus far struggled to conjure the words for the lack of spirit, but here it was. Two party members were in discussion about a topic I used to obsess about but I wanted more than anything to hunt down a novel by Charles Dickens or Oscar Wilde. My thirst to read, write and learn is far mightier than our hung parliament and our bland, banal parliamentarians. I have lost interest. I have lost interest in the wooden politician and their meaningless words and in the numb journalist and their cliché-riddled news articles.
I must quickly add that I am not relinquishing my membership of the Labour Party. I will remain a loyal member and supporter and will strive to ensure a radical Socialist government is elected as soon as the shambles we have now collapses. I mean only to take a break; I leave a fairly naïve radical, but I will return an enriched and educated radical who is able to write and speak like one ought to. I want to immerse myself in the beautifully constructed sentences of some of the finest writers from the preceding centuries. I want to learn again how to write, to rid myself of that hideous block that once removed brings into my mind’s eye but a tiresome cliché. It will take time – I expect at least a year – and I have already put together a brief list of authors and book titles to read. I have thus far allowed only one individual to guide me and that is the late Christopher Hitchens. A wondrous writer and thinker, Hitchens implored us all to submerge ourselves into the world of Orwell and it is for this reason that I have referred to him with regularity. Orwell is my starting position and there are worse authors to choose from as an entry point. I have already laid a promise that it is my intention to seek and read only literature therefore I will resist the magnetic pull towards Orwell’s vast non-fiction material until the time is right (I have read ‘The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius’ and ‘Politics and the English Language’ before now). That treat must wait.
I initially wanted to read Orwell’s six novels in order of publication but for whatever reason I started with ‘Animal Farm’ before moving on to his first published novel ‘Burmese Days’, which is based on his own experiences working for the Burmese police force in the days of the British Empire. Despite being best known for ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, written in ill health and, in the case of the latter, in his dying days, Orwell’s early novels are proving to be damning, yet astonishingly-written, social commentaries on imperial Britain, with its vile racism and rampant exploitation, and British poverty (‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ and ‘The Clergyman’s Daughter’). I aim to have read all six by the end of October. I have read numerous reviewers and journalists state that Orwell seldom could produce wit or humour in his writing, but I – and I’m glad to have discovered Hitchens and Keith Gessen, an American novelist who collated into book form dozens of Orwell’s essays, have stated similar – take an alternative view. I found hilarious a scene in ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ when Gordon Comstock, the book’s protagonist, is forced to secretly make cups of tea in his bedroom because his landlady refuses to do so after a certain time in the evening. As the scene unfolds, Orwell compares Gordon’s predicament of removing the illegitimate tea leaves from his room to the conundrum a murderer faces when attempting to dispose of their victim’s body. Wickedly funny.
Where I go, or rather who I go to, after these six books is still being debated. I have seen a beautiful edition of Charles Dickens’s ‘Great Expectations’, which was added to my list, but E. M. Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’ was one of the first titles to be added following the list’s birth, but now that I’m well committed to this challenge I’m more relaxed about who goes down on my list. I’ll take suggestions.