Of Cabbages and Long-Winded Blog Posts…

1984Just finished reading yesterday’s post, and, noticed it was very long… So, hopefully, those of you whose idea this was made your way through my first attempt without falling asleep!

The departure from my school of one of the teachers I mentioned in yesterday’s post was part of the inspiration for this blog. We hope it will be a way of continuing our frequent discussions about books. His new school is in the same school division, so, before he left he asked me to give him a stack of recommended reads that he can send back through interdivision mail.

One of the books I gave him was George Orwell’s 1984. I also borrowed a copy for myself.

To back up a bit…. In my school’s library there is a room I’m always proud to introduce to readers who are ready to take a step up from the juvenile section of the library. The room is called “the higher reading room”. Lining the floor to ceiling shelves in this room are “classics”, many of them listed on the Modern Libary Top 100 novels list, as well as popular suspense, horror, spy thriller, mystery, and gothic novels of the Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Grisham, Anne Rice, Robert Ludlum, and John le CarrĂ© variety.

Amongst these books are several beautifully perma bound copies of 1984. Seeing them there on my first day on the job last September made me feel a lot less guilty about the school copy of 1984 I never did get around to returning to the school some 23 years ago. I have since made amends by donating countless books to the school library. And, before you judge me, can I be faulted for wanting to hang on to my 1984 edition of a book called 1984?

The edition was particulary a good keepsake for me as it was actually 1984 when it was assigned to our Grade 12 English class. The coolness factor of reading 1984 in 1984 was not lost on my fellow classmates either. And, for a brief instant, a few of us even considered incorporating the book as part of our grad theme, an idea soon squelched by the thought of having to serve cabbage for our grad meal.

Despite remembering liking the book I had forgotten a lot of the details, save for the fact it was as depressing as every other book we read from Grade 9 on and that it instilled in me a dislike I have even today for the smell, taste and sight of boiled cabbage.

Earlier this week, I started reading my library copy of the book (don’t worry the 1984 edition is safely tucked away for safe keeping, or, for return to my school should a “Big Brother”-inspired spy be reading this post and report me to the school’s librarian – – hey, wait, I am the librarian… at least for now.)

Anyway, the first thing that struck me about the book is that it is a much faster read than I remembered. The next thing that struck me was that, while in 1984 the “Big Brother is watching you theme” seemed far-fetched, it is far easier to swallow now.

Orwell’s vision of 1984 as a world consisting of essentially three regions that are at various times either allies with or at war with each other makes one consider the European Union and its euro and the North American Free Trade agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico as first steps toward such a world. Admittedly, it is difficult to imagine the development of any kind of Eastasia with the current situation in the Middle East, but, who knows?

The concepts of “newspeak” and “doublethink” (doublespeak not actually being coined by Orwell, but, certainly inspired by him) are evident in many of the soundbites of our current politicians and entertainers. Do we even notice anymore such doublespeak terms as: “negative patient outcomes” (deaths) and “revenue enhancements” (taxes)?

Similarlily, technological developments like iPhones and X-Box live vision cameras make Orwell’s imagined technology of all-seeing and all-hearing telescreens much more believable now than they were in 1984, never mind how fantasy-like they would have seemed in 1948.

Re-reading Orwell’s text also reminds me of the “scents” I remember from first reading the book. An odd thing to notice, admittedly, but, any book that can make you repel at the smell of cabbage and thrill to the smell of not “Victory coffee”, but, real ground coffee is a well-written book as far as I’m concerned.

1984 isn’t read as an assigned book in our school anymore, however, it is listed on a recommended reading list that Grade 12 English students can choose from for extra marks.

When these Grade 12 students appear with their book list and ask for a tour of the higher reading room, 1984 is one of the books I point them too. The fact it was written in 1948 about an imagined time in the future long before Big Brother was the name of a reality tv show intrigues them.

I’m always interested to hear about what they think of the book now that street level cameras, satellite imaging and the continued existence of boiled cabbage make the book likely more relevant than it actually was in 1984.

They invariably say the book was “good”, but, it’s obvious that likely because of developments in their lifetime, 1984 has lost some of its shock appeal.

I’ll have more of an opionion on this once I am done re-reading the book.

To avoid spoilers, don’t follow this link until you have completely read or re-read the book, but this discussion site, has some interesting observations on things 1984.

Until then comrades, let’s enjoy the freedom of being able to read a good book…

 

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