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1984

1984 - George Orwell Heads up!Let me be up-front admitting that this is one of those self-absorbed reviews that doesn't tell you much about the book itself, but rather my experience reading it. So much has been written about the contents and significance of 1984, I don't think I can add much there. I write about how it affected me because it did. A lot. And I remain grateful to George Orwell for writing it.-Thanks also to Ceridwen, for the Listopia link that got me thinking about rewriting this review today.Here's the link to my original review, written January 2009. 1984 affected me profoundly. It's no exaggeration to say I think about it nearly every day. Yet that's all I wrote about it in my original review? Why is that? I'm not sure. It's one of the "Big Books" (capitalized, but without quotation marks in my mind) in my life. One of the top four or five which touched me in some way which transcends the conventional reading experience. I'm not a very fast reader, so I can count the number of books on one hand that I've completely read cover-to-cover in one sitting. 1984 is among them. I was fourteen years old on Christmas of 1983, and somebody (I forget who) decided that with 1984 just around the corner, Orwell's work would be a good Christmas present for me. A few days later, with the luxury of ample Christmas break free time on my hands, I started in on it. I was home alone all day, and devoured the book. Afterwards, I just lay on my bed staring at the ceiling for like twenty minutes, digesting its contents in my parents' silent home, my room bathed in the anemic light of late afternoon in winter, which somehow reinforced the power of Orwell's dark vision. The experience hadn't been like reading a book at all. It had been like opening a message in a bottle. A message Orwell had scrawled off thirty-five years earlier, and then cast into an ocean of media and ideas whose unpredictable currents had somehow ended with me. It wasn't a prophecy, as in "These things will come to pass". It was a receipt for Orwell's thoughts, which were now being whispered to me across time and from beyond the grave: "Brian, I thought these things, and that means other people can think them too. I wrote this in 1948, when Hitler still seemed real. You live in a world where he doesn't seem real anymore, but he was real. He wasn't the only one with a horrible plan." The mere existance of Orwell's dystopic story proved that it was important. Standing on the cusp of a paradigm shift for months, this little push was all I needed. There was a flutter in my stomach. There really is a monster in the attic. The call really is coming from inside the house.My interest and knowledge of history at that time was minimal. School had taught me the standard fare about the Pilgrims and Indians, Lincoln freeing the slaves, and World War I killing 16 million people because a virtually unknown archduke (is that like a prince?) was assassinated. Everything else I knew had been powerfully drummed into me by my party-line patriotic, Republican-leaning, economically abused blue collar family and hometown. The political narrative I received in childhood went something like: America are the good guys who always fight countries like the USSR and the Third Reich, who treat their citizens poorly. Well, we treat black people poorly, and probably other people too, but not as bad as Hitler treated Jews; plus, things are getting better now. (well, the worst parts of Buffalo do have a lot of black people living there, so it doesn't really look like things are getting better for them, but that's what everybody says) Anyhow, everything was fine until Jimmy Carter got into the White House and screwed things up so badly that my father got laid off and eventually lost his job at a company in Buffalo that made industrial presses. (another thing which had an enduring impact on me) There was probably a little more to my worldview then, but not much more, and those were the highlights. I don't really want to debate the merits of my perspectives at age fourteen; the point is only that I embraced a sort of sanitized, black-and-white, star-spangled American exceptionalism mixed with Hollywood happy endings which didn't quite ring true in the face of actual evidence from my own life. Before you fire up your keyboards to tell me "Sorry about your Dad's job, but Jimmy Carter isn't Big Brother", let me clarify that I didn't and do not think he is. 1984 didn't speak to me directly about my family's finances or Jimmy Carter, but merely crystallized the vague notion that had been swimming around in my head that maybe all the lauded institutions around me were not necessarily designed with my personal Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness in mind. Lest you think that 1984 made me suddenly think I had all the answers to history and social injustice, let me assure you I didn't. Orwell shocked me, but didn't turn me overnight into a... well, into anything. I started reading a lot more about history after that, and changed course in my thinking more times than I can remember. I guess 1984 made me more curious and engaged in current events, more critical in my thinking, and more skeptical of authority. That's all Orwell did for me, and I can't imagine an author doing more for a reader than that. ...It is twenty-seven years later, and Orwell is all around me, as ubiquitous as the air. His whispered warnings have become shouts, which remain (it seems) mostly unheeded. Whereas my initial response to 1984 was a vague unease and a drive to examine the mechanations of history and politics, my present-day response is a much more specific and literal recognition of the many ways Winston Smith's world mirrors my own. Analogies to 1984 pop up every single day, painful and uninvited, but irrefutable and obstinate. If you search the phrase "police taser citizen" on YouTube, you'll get enough results to occupy the next solid week watching them all. It's called "pain compliance" in law enforcement circles. (See? -it's not brutality!) Since the PATRIOT ACT was passed, America has collectively consented to waive its privacy, allowing our phones and computers to be warrantlessly surveilled at any time and without notice. The terrorists these laws were supposed to be for don't live here. These laws are for us. We talk about waterboarding and secret renditions as matter-of-factly as we would discuss gardening. We are in the ninth year of an apparently unending "War on Terror" against Islamic extremism. We've always been at war with Islamic extremists. (except when they were our friends against the Soviets in 1979)There really is a monster in the attic. The call really is coming from inside the house.Am I oversimplifying some of these things? I know some of you are just dying to tell me that I am. Go ahead. It won't change the fact that Orwell has never been more relevant than he is today, and there may never be a more important book in my life than 1984.