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Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell

Admittedly this little book lured me in with its beautiful cover design and curious title. Like most of my peers, I know of George Orwell from his classic novels—Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm—that we were forced to read in high school. The “doom-and-gloom” attitude of those novels is present in this short collection of essays, though often offset by the subtle humor and absurdity discovered in pivotal events in his life and in the conditions and customs of early 20th-century England.

His description of the state of a public wing of a run-down hospital in Paris are horrifying and grotesque, and the coldness with which he was treated by doctors and their students is unsettling. The disdain of science by his boarding school disciplinarians is telling of the natural resistance to change that lurks within many of us, and that we still cannot seem to quell. Some back-of-napkin calculations reveal that most folks (Orwell included) are willing to part with more money per year on cigarettes and other poisons than on books, "...because reading is a less exciting pastime than going to the dogs, the pictures or the pub...".

These essays are a tinge ranty in nature, but Orwell’s reflections on what seems to be a most unfortunate childhood do help to inform where his writing style and philosophies as an adult came about.