Tag Archives: 1984

The Secret Life of Books – GUEST POST

Surly Joe Dreams: A Mostly True Narrative of Literature and Nonsense

copperfield-cover-webThe sound that woke me from a semi-deep sleep was a loud dull thud. I sat up, startled and immediately alert. It was the middle of the night, not a time for loud, dull thuds. On the pillow next to me was my copy of David Copperfield, the copy that was supposed to be on my bookcase on the opposite side of my room. I had not touched this book in years, but it was on my pillow next to me.

Before I could say “what the…”, a second book, Dante’s Divine Comedy, shot out of the bookcase, cannonball-like, and slammed into my shoulder, spine-first. It was a paperback so it didn’t hurt too much, but that really wasn’t really the issue. The issue was that the books from my bookcase on the other side of my room were spontaneously launching themselves at me. A third, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, followed in quick succession by Fahrenheit 451 and all three volumes of the Lord of the Rings, ricocheted off my arms and chest. I covered my face, trying to protect myself, yelling over and over “Stop! Stop!”, screaming “What are you doing?” The attack continued. 1984, Crime and Punishment, Jude the Obscure, A Farewell to Arms, Under the Volcano, The Grapes of Wrath. A literary barrage. I yelled one more time, the sound of my voice competing with the thudding of the books.

Then I really woke up, relieved. Shaking my head into awareness, I marvelled at what must have been a book reviewer’s ultimate nightmare. The symbolism was so beautiful and perfect. It was the revenge of the books, their angry response to all the negative criticism that had been heaped on them over the centuries. For once, they were fighting back, attacking their critic in the only way they could attack. Pure violent retribution.

The Nightmare is a 1781 oil painting by Anglo- Swiss artist Henry Fuseli (1741–1825). Since its creation, it has remained Fuseli’s best-known work. With its first exhibition in 1782 at the Royal Academy of London, the image became famous; an engraved version was widely distributed and the painting was parodied in political satire. Due to its fame, Fuseli painted at least three other versions of the painting. – WIKIPEDIA


Then a second interpretation came to mind. Perhaps it wasn’t revenge. Perhaps it was a call from all the books I hadn’t yet reviewed, their blunt statement saying “pick me next, don’t ignore me”. It wasn’t anger, it was jealousy, a wish for inclusion.

I’m on my way to my local cafe now. Hemingway had his favourite cafe and I have mine. I have to read and write. I have a new review to begin. For the sake of my sleep, I’ll try to not be overly critical. I’ll try not to forget anyone.


In his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia,  Circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

Note: Upon reading this post I couldn’t help but be reminded of the wonderful 2011 Academy Award winning short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore. I defy you to watch and not want to immediately drop everything and pick up the next book on your TBR list!


Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell


“He might be ragged and cold or even starving, but so long as he could read, think and watch for meteors, he was, as he said, free in his own mind.”
― George OrwellDown and Out in Paris and London

  • Down and Out copyTitle: Down and Out in Paris and London
  • Author: George Orwell
  • ISBN: 015626224X (ISBN13: 9780156262248)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: March 15th 1972 by Mariner Books (first published 1933)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Genre/s: Fiction/Memoir
  • Source: Purchased

Before the acclaim of Animal Farm and 1984, before gaining recognition as one of the twentieth century’s greatest and most influential authors, there was poverty. Squalid, extreme, bug-infested poverty. Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933, is George Orwell’s autobiographical account of life on the streets, searching for work, searching for food and a place to sleep, pawning clothes for a piece of bread, a cup of tea and a cigarette. His Paris was not the City of Lights, his London was not the height of British splendor. Success meant finding work in a grand hotel restaurant for just enough money to avoid starvation, working seven days a week, seventeen hours a day, standing in slop, serving the oblivious rich patrons on the other side of the kitchen door.who don’t realize that their food was just laying on the floor being picked at by vermin.

When work ended, life meant “tramping” from town to town, sleeping in lodging houses, Salvation Army hostels or on park benches, hoping not to get arrested. At times, there was no food for days, no bathing for weeks. But ironically, Orwell also describes “a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out…and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety”. Down and Out in Paris and London is Orwell’s descriptive study of poverty in two of the world’s greatest cities. It doesn’t explain why he was poor, how long he was poor or how he escaped from being poor. He just was. It was his existence. And when it ended, he
took his experiences and learnings and moved on.

This unusual fictional account – in good part autobiographical – narrates without self-pity and often with humor the adventures of a penniless British writer among the down-and-out of two great cities. The Parisian episode is fascinating for its expose of the kitchens of posh French restaurants, where the narrator works at the bottom of the culinary echelon as dishwasher, or plongeur. In London, while waiting for a job, he experiences the world of tramps, street people, and free lodging houses. In the tales of both cities we learn some sobering Orwellian truths about poverty and society. – Goodreads

George_OrwellEric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.

He is best known for the dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (published in 1949) and the satirical novella “Animal Farm” (1945)—they have together sold more copies than any two books by any other twentieth-century author. His 1938 book “Homage to Catalonia”, an account of his experiences as a volunteer on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, together with numerous essays on politics, literature, language, and culture, are widely acclaimed.