Anyway, back to Bookshop Memories. In this essay, Orwell recounts his experiences working in a local second hand bookshop. His experiences are largely negative. His chief complaint is "the rarity of really bookish people". He recalls that many of the people who attend second hand bookshops are people looking for companionship and a place to spend time more than anything else. He decries the patrons that order books they never collect, that request books of which they cannot recall the title or author and those that would rather read Ethel Fell than Hemingway or Wodehouse.
Orwell doesn't just focus on the wide variety of people who attend the bookshop, but also the content of what they read. He puzzles over why people are willing to buy Dickens, but wouldn't look twice at his works if they are included in the bookshops's lending library. He laments the unpopularity of short stories, although notes that DH Lawrence's short stories always seem popular. I particularly liked his comment about male readers:
"It is not true that men don't read novels, but it is true that there are whole branches of fiction that they avoid. Roughly speaking, what one might call the average novel - the ordinary, good-bad, Galsworthy-and-water stuff which is the norm of the English novel - seems to exist only for women. Men read either the novels it is possible to respect, or detective stories. But their consumption of detective stories in terrific".Orwell concludes that ultimately, he couldn't make a career of working in a bookshop. He states that the real reason he wouldn't choose to be in that job for like "is that while I was in it I lost my love of books."
I really enjoyed reading this brief essay. Despite his negativity, it hasn't put me off opening my own bookshop one day. I appreciated Orwell's honesty, and it made me think about selling books from a perspective that I haven't thought about before. It seems foreign to me that you could lose your love of books by spending time with them all day, but then the longer I think about it, the more I understand how that could be the case. Work is work. When your one true interest becomes your work, I can see how it might lose some of its shine. I was particularly disturbed by a comment he made about having to lie about books all day when you sell books. That's very true. If you were selling books and someone approached you for an opinion about a book you hated, you would have to tell them how great it is in order to get the sale. That could become depressing. My only complaint was that Orwell sometimes seemed a little condescending about people's choice of books, disparaging people who preferred Elliot to Boswell for example. But then, I suppose someone like Orwell is allowed to be a little disparaging, he has earned the right.
All in all, a wonderful essay that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.