On June 25th, 1963…

…singer-songwriter George Michael was born:

Okay, okay: ALSO.  On June 25th, 1903, author George Orwell was born.  (George Orwell was his pen name, actually — a fact I was unaware of — he was born Eric Arthur Blair.  The things I learn writing these posts!)  His most widely known books are perennial picks for high school required reading:  Animal Farm and Nineteen-Eighty Four.

As you’re probably familiar enough with those titles (though I will mention that we have the movie 1984 with John Hurt in our DVD section — which came out in, you guessed it, 1984), I’m going to feature two of his slightly lesser-known titles.

In our biography section, we have Homage to Catalonia (description from Amazon):

“I wonder what is the appropriate first action when you come from a country at war and set foot on peaceful soil. Mine was to rush to the tobacco-kiosk and buy as many cigars and cigarettes as I could stuff into my pockets.” Most war correspondents observe wars and then tell stories about the battles, the soldiers and the civilians. George Orwell–novelist, journalist, sometime socialist–actually traded his press pass for a uniform and fought against Franco’s Fascists in the Spanish Civil War during 1936 and 1937. He put his politics and his formidable conscience to the toughest tests during those days in the trenches in the Catalan section of Spain. Then, after nearly getting killed, he went back to England and wrote a gripping account of his experiences, as well as a complex analysis of the political machinations that led to the defeat of the socialist Republicans and the victory of the Fascists.

And in our fiction section, we have Down and Out in Paris in London (description also from Amazon — and as the description says, while it’s technically a novel, a good part of it is autobiographical):

What was a nice Eton boy like Eric Blair doing in scummy slums instead of being upwardly mobile at Oxford or Cambridge? Living Down and Out in Paris and London, repudiating respectable imperialist society, and reinventing himself as George Orwell. His 1933 debut book (ostensibly a novel, but overwhelmingly autobiographical) was rejected by that elitist publisher T.S. Eliot, perhaps because its close-up portrait of lowlife was too pungent for comfort.

In Paris, Orwell lived in verminous rooms and washed dishes at the overpriced “Hotel X,” in a remarkably filthy, 110-degree kitchen. He met “eccentric people–people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent.” Though Orwell’s tone is that of an outraged reformer, it’s surprising how entertaining many of his adventures are: gnawing poverty only enlivens the imagination, and the wild characters he met often swindled each other and themselves. The wackiest tale involves a miser who ate cats, wore newspapers for underwear, invested 6,000 francs in cocaine, and hid it in a face-powder tin when the cops raided. They had to free him, because the apparently controlled substance turned out to be face powder instead of cocaine.

In London, Orwell studied begging with a crippled expert named Bozo, a great storyteller and philosopher. Orwell devotes a chapter to the fine points of London guttersnipe slang. Years later, he would put his lexical bent to work by inventing Newspeak, and draw on his down-and-out experience to evoke the plight of the Proles in 1984. Though marred by hints of unexamined anti-Semitism, Orwell’s debut remains, as The Nation put it, “the most lucid portrait of poverty in the English language.”

As always, if you would like to place a hold, please call the library at 985-2173 or visit our website.

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