illustrated portrait of English author George Orwell

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What are George Orwell's views on being a bookseller in "Bookshop Memories"?

In this piece, Orwell reveals that he did not like working in a bookshop. He found that the kinds of customers the shop attracted, and dealing with books as a commodity, ruined his love of books.

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Orwell's essay describes his time working in a used book store. Orwell disliked working at the store; seen up close and en masse, books by the thousands became "boring and even slightly sickening." Orwell also notes that "truly bookish" people were few and far between. In fact, much of...

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Orwell's essay describes his time working in a used book store. Orwell disliked working at the store; seen up close and en masse, books by the thousands became "boring and even slightly sickening." Orwell also notes that "truly bookish" people were few and far between. In fact, much of the essay is about the kinds of customers that would come into the store. From his position as bookseller, Orwell got a first-hand look at the actual British reading public and the kinds of uses people had for books. What he found is that the psychology of reading, or of pretending to be a reader, is complex and has little to do with quality literature.

One example is the person who would find an expensive and rare book, invent a story about why they had no money to pay for it, and demand that it be set aside for them to pick up later, only to never return. Orwell wonders about the motivations of such people, who never attempted to steal the books but simply wanted to reserve them somehow—he says they enjoyed the "illusion of spending real money." Orwell also notes that it was useless to stock the store's lending library with classic English novels, since no one would want to read Dickens or Austen. On the other hand, it was "easy" to sell Dickens to people, who saw owning a set of the novels as a kind of emblem of respectability, but had no intention of actually reading them. Most people, he finds, do not want to be challenged in their reading.

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