Review: 1984, George Orwell

Review: 1984, George Orwell1984 by George Orwell, George Orwell, Erich Fromm
Published by New American Library ISBN: 0451524934
on July 1st 1950
Genres: Classic
Pages: 328
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four-stars

Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell's nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff's attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell's prescience of modern life—the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language—and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.

1984 is one of those books I’d been meaning to get to for a long time, and I didn’t for one reason and another—partly perhaps because I didn’t much like Brave New World; partly because I knew it was pretty depressing; and partly because as an English teacher, I knew the plot and pretty knew much how it would end. It’s an occupational hazard. At any rate, the story is depressingly relevant in ways I’m not sure it was even ten years ago when I read Brave New World. I am glad to be able to cross it off my list. It’s one of those books people are surprised to learn I haven’t read. I guess most people read this novel in school, but I was never assigned many class texts to read until junior year when I moved to Georgia. I can’t even remember reading a book in English class at all in the tenth grade. I don’t feel there is any such thing as a required text that everyone should read. If we want to read classics, we will get to them when we get to them. On the other hand, I also see the value of books that show us who we are and help us understand ourselves and others.

I struggled with how to rate this book because while I can’t say I truly liked it—and it is possible, I think, to like dystopian fiction. I didn’t like the characters or really care too much about them. However, I can also admire it from a philosophical standpoint as a precursor to dystopian fiction that—in my opinion—is both more compelling and better written, such as The Handmaid’s Tale. I can also admire Orwell’s prescience in predicting the ubiquity of television and the creepy surveillance culture, though I’m not sure it existed in 1984 the way it does today. It’s hard to deny the book’s influence on our culture. Most distressing, perhaps, is the way in which our current president’s lies and the “doublespeak” presentation of “alternative facts” makes the book too alarmingly close to reality. Ultimately, I want to have too much faith in the people to prevent a vision like Orwell’s from happening in our time. Yet, Suzanne Collins has said about her series The Hunger Games that there isn’t anything in her books that hasn’t happened in history in one form or other. The same can be said of 1984. I am hoping we all stay vigilant.

Beat the BacklistI’m not sure if I’ll count any additional books for the Beat the Backlist Challenge this year, as 2017 is drawing to a close. This is only the sixth book out of twenty that I had planned to read, but I’ll save my reading challenge progress reflection for another day.

four-stars
Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Everyone Has Read but Me…

Top Ten TuesdayThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday focuses on the top ten books I feel as though everyone has read but me. I went to three different high schools. I can’t remember reading a single book for school during all of tenth grade. In fact, all I remember about that year was doing grammar exercises out of the Warriner’s grammar book and feeling that our teacher hated us. Eleventh and twelfth grade were better, but I still managed to graduate from high school (and college, as an English major no less) without having been required to read a lot of books that seem to be staples in the canon.

  1. [amazon_link id=”0452284236″ target=”_blank” ]Nineteen Eighty-Four[/amazon_link] by George Orwell. I actually do want to read this one, and I had every intention of reading it this year, but I think you have to be in a mood for dystopian literature, and frankly, that mood hasn’t happened this year.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0142000671″ target=”_blank” ]Of Mice and Men[/amazon_link] by John Steinbeck. I’ve seen the movie many times, and it’s not like it’s a long book. It’s just that, well, the mood thing. At least that’s my excuse for not reading it this year. You know, I put together this reading challenge specifically to address some of these deficiencies, and I read all of one book for it.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0143039431″ target=”_blank” ]The Grapes of Wrath[/amazon_link] by John Steinbeck. Ditto.
  4. [amazon_link id=”0307454541″ target=”_blank” ]The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo[/amazon_link] by Stieg Larson. Not sure I want to read it, but man, hasn’t everyone else?
  5. [amazon_link id=”0307594009″ target=”_blank” ]Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl[/amazon_link] by Anne Frank. I somehow never got around to this one. I teach at a Jewish school, but the students tend to read it in middle school now.
  6. [amazon_link id=”B000XSKDH4″ target=”_blank” ]Anne of Green Gables[/amazon_link] by L.M. Montgomery. Would I like this? I was never sure, so I never picked it up. Now it almost feels too late to bother.
  7. [amazon_link id=”1420929089″ target=”_blank” ]Little Women[/amazon_link] by Louisa May Alcott. Even my husband has read this book. I never really wanted to, but it sure seems like everyone else has read it.
  8. [amazon_link id=”0375842209″ target=”_blank” ]The Book Thief[/amazon_link] by Marcus Zusak. I have finally been convinced to put this on my TBR pile, but frankly, I avoid books about the Holocaust mainly because it was such a tragic event—many of my students’ grandparents are Holocaust survivors—and sometimes I feel that books and movies try to capitalize on it. It’s hard to explain how I feel. It’s sort of like writing a college admissions essay that deals with your brother being killed by a drunk driver—the admissions committee looks callous if they pick at your writing ability with a subject so fraught with emotion, but the point behind the essay is to evaluate your writing ability. It’s a form of manipulation. That’s how I feel about Holocaust books and movies—it’s almost impossible to criticize them because you look like a horrible person. Case in point, [amazon_link id=”0198326769″ target=”_blank” ]The Boy in the Striped Pajamas[/amazon_link] probably couldn’t have happened in reality because of the manner in which the Nazis dealt with children during the Holocaust, and yet, how do you point that out without looking like a complete ass? I should just stop because you probably think I’m a horrible person.
  9. [amazon_link id=”1594480001″ target=”_blank” ]The Kite Runner[/amazon_link] by Khaled Hosseini. I started this one, but didn’t get far. My daughter has read it. She said it’s excellent.
  10. [amazon_link id=”1451626657″ target=”_blank” ]Catch-22[/amazon_link] by Joseph Heller. This seems to be some kind of staple of teens/twenties. I don’t know how I passed the threshold into the my thirties without having my book passport stamped with this one, but I snuck by somehow. And now that I’m officially in my 40’s, I’m just not even sure I’d want to bother.

In addition to these books, I haven’t read much Kurt Vonnegut at all (that is, I have read one short story). I’ve also read precious little Dickens ([amazon_link id=”0142196584″ target=”_blank” ]A Tale of Two Cities[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”0142196584″ target=”_blank” ]Great Expectations[/amazon_link], and [amazon_link id=”1612930336″ target=”_blank” ]A Christmas Carol[/amazon_link] being the only selections I’ve read).

However! Before the admonitions start in the comments, I would like to add that I have read all of the following books that seem to be cropping up on these lists on other peoples’ blogs today:

  • [amazon_link id=”B003GCTQ7M” target=”_blank” ]Moby Dick[/amazon_link] by Herman Melville
  • [amazon_link id=”B003VYBQPK” target=”_blank” ]The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn[/amazon_link] by Mark Twain
  • [amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link] by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • [amazon_link id=”0684801469″ target=”_blank” ]A Farewell to Arms[/amazon_link] by Ernest Hemingway
  • [amazon_link id=”0679723161″ target=”_blank” ]Lolita[/amazon_link] by Vladimir Nabokov
  • [amazon_link id=”0199536368″ target=”_blank” ]Crime and Punishment[/amazon_link] by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • [amazon_link id=”0143105442″ target=”_blank” ]The Scarlet Letter[/amazon_link] by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • All of Jane Austen’s completed books (the six novels)
  • [amazon_link id=”0143106155″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link] and [amazon_link id=”0143105434″ target=”_blank” ]Wuthering Heights[/amazon_link] by Charlotte and Emily Brontë respectively

So, I am not a complete slouch.

Books I Should Have Read in School, but Didn't Challenge

Books I Should Have Read in School Challenge

Books I Should Have Read in School, but Didn't Challenge

In signing up for my own challenge, how embarrassing is it that I’m not sure I can commit to the highest level, Literature Professor? And yet, I am just not sure I can read 12 books I should have read in school. Actually, I have done a pretty decent job of returning to books I should have read, such as Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, and the like, mainly because I’m a high school English teacher, and if I missed them myself in high school, I can read them as a teacher when I prepare to teach them. But there are a few books I missed or didn’t finish.

I’m going to commit to reading these six books next year, which will be Graduate Student Level if I complete all six.

photo credit: velvettangerine

Books Everyone Else Has Read

…but I haven’t. Stefanie posted about this topic today, and she inspired me. Here are the top ten books it seems like everyone has read that I haven’t read.

I know. I even work in a Jewish high school, but I somehow never read this book in school, and I haven’t read it yet. I keep meaning to, but somehow I never seem to get around to it.

1984

Yeah, I probably need my English teacher card revoked for this one. I have read its cousin, Brave New World. And the thing is, I actually really like dystopian literature. I’ve read most of the other dystopian classics I can think of. Just not the classic, most well known one. I may as well admit I never read Animal Farm either.

The Kite Runner

My daughter read this and said it was amazing. My former department head highly recommended it. I read a bit of it, but I never finished it. I think I will some time, but for whatever reason, it’s just slipped off my radar.

Little Women

So am I the only woman who has never read this book? I mean, even my husband has read this book. Of course, it was required school reading for him, but still. And furthermore, I have no desire to read it. Even though my husband says, “It wouldn’t hurt you.”

Catch-22

And I also haven’t read any Vonnegut aside from “Harrison Bergeron,” which I actually did like. I am still not sure how I feel about some of the postmodern literature. I do intend to read some it. Really.

Flowers for Algernon

This book seems to be a staple of middle school. It seems as if all my students have read it. I don’t really have much of a desire to read it, either, even though the students seem to like the book.

Tuesdays with Morrie

I think I may be the last person on earth not to read this. And I have no plans to read it. This kind of book is not really my thing. I also never watched The Last Lecture, and I haven’t bought any Chicken Soup books.

Of Mice and Men

This one I’m ashamed of, and I will change it. Soon. I actually have wanted to read it for a long time. I loved the movie with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich.

The Book Thief

My department head raves about this book. I haven’t read it, and I’m not sure I want to. I will keep thinking about it.

The Time Traveler's Wife

This one is on my TBR pile. One day. I am interested in it, and I’ve heard good things about it.

So which 10 books have you not read that it seems like everyone else has read? Sound off in the comments or post to your blog!