Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rant or Rave: Nineteen Eighty-four

Note to self: following a book that, at its core, celebrates the human spirit while acknowledging its shortcomings with a book that unrelentingly examines the darkside of human nature is both fascinating and unsettling. But that's what I did when I followed up Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird with George Orwell's, Nineteen Eighty-four. 1984 is a profound, thought provoking masterpiece. It is also disturbing, depressing and hard to digest.

In capsule form, the strangeness of following one with the other boils down to two iconic passages, one from each book. I went from Mockingbird's: “Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.” to Nineteen Eighty-four's: "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."

I do not regret reading it-- far from it, I wish I had read it sooner (slightly shamefaced admission, though I knew the gist of Orwell's classic book, I had never read it). But. It is not light fare. It is profoundly scary to think about the world Orwell describes and how it is not inconceivable even today. Hopefully the free exchange of information and ideas enabled by modern technology is making it less likely with each passing year and technological breakthrough.

Still, technology is what makes the Big Brother state of 1984 possible-- the constant surveillance of the telescreens, the ability of the Party to control the present, manipulate the past and thus determine the future-- so it is a double-edged sword. I also look to public library's as a bulwark against the type of disinformation and "doublespeak" so vital to the Big Brother state described in 1984. Still another reason why library's are important community institutions.

Though disturbing and depressing, Nineteen Eighty-four is profoundly important and still terribly relevant. It remains a book that should be on the short list of "must read" novels, and likely one that should be on the even shorter list of "must read more than once" novels.

Read it, digest it, and then go sit in the nice warm sun, free from observation by anyone and free to think and feel whatever you desire. And appreciate how lucky we are to live in a free and open society.

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