Een verhaal roept emoties op, zegt Angus Fletcher in Wonderworks (2021). Lezen is therapeutisch. Literatuur bewerkt de psyche. Het lost problemen op en vervult behoeftes.

Na het lezen van een boek voel je je beter (‘increase of joy and hope’). Na het lezen van een boek voel je je minder slecht (‘release of grief and anxiety’). Literatuur is een technologie.

Ik blijf zitten met Murakami’s overtuiging dat je schrijven leuk moet vinden. Waarom zou je het anders doen, zegt hij. En met Richard Bransons overtuiging dat je je werk leuk moet vinden. ‘Wat je doet, moet je wel leuk vinden. Als je het niet leuk vindt, doe het dan niet.’

Zijn boek viel open op een bladzijde met dit advies, en ik heb het teruggezet. Aan het huis klussen is leuk. Spullen jutten is leuk. Boeken vinden is leuk. Wandelen en de zeldzame poelsnip spotten is leuk.

‘I’ve been meaning to write for some time now about the delight that is The Orwell Diaries —a recent example of that most welcome of online phenomena, the re-publishing of classic diaries as blogs. 

George — or Eric, as I suppose we should call him — is currently wintering in French Morocco. It’s December 1938, he’s 36 years old, and he’s there to recover from a severe bout of tuberculosis; it probably hasn’t helped his health, too, that a sniper’s bullet went through his neck in Barcelona in 1937, where he fought against Fascism (and wrote Homage to Catalonia, which was published, and flopped, in April 1938).

His diary, though, has yet to mention a single piece of his own writing in any detail. And he isn’t yet the author of the two books above all associated with his name today, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). In 1938, Eric is the author of three modestly successful novels and three works of non-fiction; he has written some striking journalism, and spent some time working as a tutor, teacher, and bookshop assistant — but he is no sense a public man of letters. He’s only in north Africa thanks to the largesse of an anonymous benefactor; much of his writing life in England to date has been made possible by staying with or being helped out by his parents, relations and friends (who aren’t especially wealthy). He has been a policeman in Burma, a down-and-out in London and Paris and a combatant in Spain; but he has also spent a lot of time living in cottages, gardening, and participating in British provincial life. 

If you don’t pay attention, in fact, the diaries themselves can read like the note-takings of a provincial bore:

In the morning dust-storms, then fairly heavy rain. The afternoon cold & misty, just like England. Nights now are distinctly chilly. On a patch which I saw being ploughed 30th October or a day or two earlier, the grain is now 4-6” high. Oranges now ripe & on sale everywhere. Pomegranates now on sale are over-ripe & quite a different colour, brown instead of red.

And yet — their cumulative effect is remarkable. No detail is beneath his attention. 

Unlike so many diarists, he never chooses to amuse himself with bon mots or snap judgements. His intent is precision, and understanding, and honest record-keeping; there is no alchemical magic of ‘great writing’ being practised, and no pretension to it. Just time and patience. He notes, every day, how many eggs his hens have laid:

Two eggs. (This makes 30 since 26.10.38)

I love it — especially the tiny intermittent sketches of something that’s caught his attention: ‘Form of donkey shoe’ (pictured, right), ‘Method of irrigation used here,’ ‘a small light plough, no wheel but share as in Europe & quite sharp, made in Czechoslovakia & probably costing £1 – £2. It is hard work but evidently not too much for a strong donkey.’ 

It reminds me that there’s only one certain thing about writing: it takes time. And if you don’t give it enough time and attention, you won’t produce the work. It worries me, too. How many of us today manage to spend the time Orwell did looking at what’s right under our noses? (Orwell’s eggs —and the joy of his diaries, Tom Chatfield, December 8, 2008, Prospect magazine).

Schrijven is werk als je het goed wil doen, het vergt tijd en geduld. Note-taking begint met opmerkzaamheid, oog voor detail. Note-taking is leuk.