Reading 1984

I finally read 1984, that book everyone read in high school except my class, which read Animal Farm instead. We were the class of ’84, maybe the teacher was being sensitive? Right. So at my advanced age, I read this for the first time. Overall reaction: Meh. I can see why the book has been deemed Important Literature, I can see the prophetic nature of the work, I can see ways that some of the ideas continue to be important in the twenty-first century. I can better appreciate the photos of a young woman reading the book at a protest in Iran. But I didn’t like it. I found the hopelessness too much. I wanted Smith to do better in the end. I think people could do better.

How could people do better? On the bus ride home today, I first read the Appendix to 1984 describing Newspeak (more of that in a moment). Then I turned to my back-up book (I knew I’d finish 1984 before I got home), Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. I’ve mentioned this book in this space before. Today I began to read a chapter called “Practice Poetry.” This is stewardship strategy #8. Why read poetry? The author argued that the most persuasive reason in her mind is “reading and writing are survival skills. If we learn the skills involved in reading closely, attentively, imaginatively, if we understand the demands of a poem and respond to them, we are better equipped to negotiate flexibly, distinguish what is authentic from what is false, and make discerning decisions.” What a great counterpoint to the lit-free world of Orwell’s dystopia. Embrace poetry! It saves the world!


A note on Newspeak: In the appendix to 1984, the pared down language of Newspeak is described. In it the idea of a verb/noun is introduced. This verb/noun can then be changed to an adjective or adverb by adding the suffixes -ful or -wise respectively. AHA! This is why I hate the word “impactful.” It is a Newspeak adjective! Flee the formation of Newspeak adjectives! Use real words!!



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