Off The Bookshelf: 1984

Last year was certainly an interesting one for history, but also for my reading list! I finally got around to enjoying a few classics I’d been wanting to read for years, so today I’m focusing on one of them for my first book review of 2018. As if you haven’t heard about it enough in the past year, here’s my review of 1984 by George Orwell!

1984, by George Orwell

Summary

First published in 1949, 1984 (or Nineteen Eighty-Four) is a dystopian political novel and the last book ever written by George Orwell. The protagonist of the story is Winston Smith, an Outer Party member living in the fictional totalitarian superstate of Oceania. The government of Oceania is run by the Inner Party, commonly referred to only as the Party, and enforces an ideology known as Ingsoc.

Winston works in the Ministry of Truth, revising historical records for the government while secretly hating the Party and dreaming of rebellion against their leader, Big Brother. The novel follows Winston as he navigates through a world where history is fiction, the government is always watching you, and independent thinking is punishable by death.

Review

First off, I know it may seem like I only read this book now because it feels more relevant than ever, but while that was a valid reason that did make the book easier to find (I picked it up from a “bestsellers” table at Barnes & Noble), the truth is that George Orwell’s 1984 is a book I’d been wanting to read for years but that I hadn’t found the time (or copy in English) to read until last year.

Having said that, the fact that I read the book in 2017 may have made it that much more realistic and terrifying.

Movie poster for 1984 (1984)

The totalitarian nightmare that is the world of 1984 is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read in a book, probably because it feels so real. Modern history aside, the idea of an authoritarian government with absolute power existing only 35 years into the first edition’s future speaks volumes about how easily people can be manipulated and controlled.

The most obvious criticism within this theme is against communism (Ingsoc being short for “English Socialism”), which was still on the rise in Orwell’s day, but the author was warning us about the dangers of psychological manipulation and the control of information even in democratic societies. As is mentioned later in the story, the Party seeks power solely for the sake of power, and in so doing, deprives humanity of the very freedoms that make us human.

But as noted in this TED-Ed video, “authoritarian alone does not Orwellian make.” The scariest part of Oceania’s totalitarian regime isn’t the omnipresent surveillance nor the persecution of individualism, terrifying as they are; it’s the control of thought and behavior through language.

The official language of Oceania is Newspeak—a version of English stripped down to its barest bones. In Newspeak, most words have a single concrete meaning, sentences are constructed via a basic grammatical system, and entire words and definitions have been scrapped from the dictionary. The point of this is to completely eliminate critical thinking from the population, thus maintaining the Party’s power indefinitely. If that idea doesn’t send chills down your spine, I don’t know what will.

It is in these portrayals of language and thought that George Orwell’s astute observations about society are most evident. In his essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), he examines the use of language as a political device—or more accurately, the distortion of language as a catalyst for political manipulation.

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. – George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” (1946)

Overall, 1984 is a chilling yet fascinating read that deserves its place among the greatest novels ever written for its timeless message of warning to humanity. Though I’m sure he could never have imagined a future with the Internet and social media, Orwell was right to urge us not to lose our language and individual thought. They’re our greatest defenses against the threat of a world where war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.

Inspiration

Orwell’s 1984 is considered one of the most powerful and influential literary works of the 20th century, and with good reason. Despite having been written in the late 1940s, the book only seems to become more relevant with each passing year. Why else do sales of this novel continue to spike over half a century since its debut?

Along with Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, 1984 is part of the trilogy of quintessential “negative utopia” novels of the mid 20th century. To this day, it inspires us to imagine a world without the basic freedoms we take for granted and to question if we’re really headed in the right direction as a society.

In the digital age, we’ve long been at the point of willingly trading privacy for convenience, and a case can be made for how we already practice “doublethink” every day. It’s no wonder this novel continues to top bestseller charts in the 21st century: we’re already living in the future of mass surveillance and public manipulation!

It’s worth noting that spikes in sales of 1984 are not that uncommon. Remember Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal? Current events have a way of drawing people back to this classic again and again, but whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on your perspective. Yes, it’s scary to think we’re becoming the world Orwell predicted in the ’40s, but it’s good that we’re recognizing the signs early, right?

While it’s easy to read a book like 1984 and fear the expanding powers of government, Orwell’s story is more of a cautionary tale for society as a whole. It’s not just our democracy and political integrity that we must protect, but our language and our ability to think critically.

Like the people of Oceania before the perpetual war and the rise of Ingsoc, we are responsible for the course our history takes. The difference is that we may still have a chance to preserve our rights and defend our individuality before it’s too late.

Five More Books I Want to Read in 2018

Last week, I shared the first half of my list of top ten books I want to read in 2018. Now let’s dive into the second half! Here are the other five books I want to read this year! Enjoy!

6) A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

After finally finishing A Game of Thrones last year, I just got the second book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series for Christmas! Like its predecessor, A Clash of Kings is an epic story spanning a few hundred pages, and given that I’m a relatively slow reader, I admit that I probably won’t finish it this year. Still, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as much as the first book. Hopefully this one won’t take me another three years to finish!

7) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Speaking of “the second book”, another series I started reading last year is The Hunger Games. Since I enjoyed the first book and all four movies, I’m looking forward to continuing the series with Catching Fire. And yes, I’ve heard that the sequels aren’t quite as good as the first book, as is often the case with YA series, but it seems a shame to start a trilogy I like and not finish it!

8) Arrival by Ted Chiang

This one is a slightly different choice for me, as it’s actually a collection of short stories instead of a single novel. Originally titled Stories of Your Life and Others, Arrival is the book on which the movie of the same name is based—or rather, it contains the short story on which the movie is based, “Story of Your Life”. Considering I’d like to read more sci-fi and short fiction this year, I’m looking forward to reading these stories!

9) Good Wives (Little Women, Part 2) by Louisa May Alcott

Did you know that the novel Little Women exists in two versions? One is only the first part, spanning a single year in the lives of the March sisters; the other is the full story that continues into their adult lives. The second part, when published separately from the first, is usually sold under the title Good Wives.

Well, I read Little Women two years ago and loved it, but since the copy I had was only “Act 1”, I still have yet to enjoy the whole book. This year, I plan to get my hands on a copy of the full version of Little Women so I can finally finish the story! (Yes, I’ll be sure to keep tissues handy!)

10) Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Yes, it’s another nonfiction space book by Neil deGrasse Tyson! Like StarTalk, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is another book I intend to borrow from my boyfriend, who received it as a birthday gift last year. We’re both fascinated with space and I do enjoy popular science, so I know I’ll have fun reading this book!

And that concludes my list of books to read in 2018! I hope you enjoyed it, and as always, thanks for reading!

What about you? Any books you’d like to read this year? What other goals have you set for 2018?

Five Books I Want to Read in 2018

January is a time for starting fresh and setting new personal goals, and in my case, that includes reading more! Every year, I make a New Year’s resolution to read at least ten new books, and 2018 is no different. After last year’s selections turned out to be enjoyable reads, I’m looking forward to diving into this year’s list!

So to start off my 2018 goals, here’s the first part of my list of the top ten books I want to read this year. Enjoy!

1) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany

I know, as an avid Harry Potter fan, I really should have read this one by now. The good news is that I received Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as a birthday present last year, so I have no excuse not to read it now! I finished reading the Harry Potter series close to a decade ago, so it’s been too long since I’ve read J.K. Rowling’s work. Even if this book/play was written mostly by another writer, I’m looking forward to being “reunited” with Rowling’s beloved characters!

2) Misery by Stephen King

Would you judge me if I told you I’ve never read a Stephen King novel? As a writer, it’s just embarrassing! Despite having wanted to read his books for years, the great Mr. King remained absent from my bookshelf until last year, when I received a copy of Misery as a gift from a family member. I wasn’t yet sure which King novel I wanted to start with, but my mom has recommended this one to me in the past, so I already know I’ll love it!

3) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

After reading 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 last year, it seemed only too obvious to want to read this book next. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World always appears on lists of “must-read dystopian novels” alongside George Orwell’s 1984 and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, and given the strange times we’re living in, it feels like dystopian fiction is more “must-read” than ever. Not to mention the elements of genetic engineering in this story will certainly appeal to my biologist side!

4) The Martian by Andy Weir

Here’s another book I got for my birthday last year! The Martian was added to my to-read list in 2017, though I haven’t yet had a chance to dive into it. I’ve heard it’s a very fun read, and given how much I enjoyed the movie (and how much I like stories about space in general), I’m sure I’ll enjoy the book even more! Now that it’s finally on my shelf, I can’t wait to read it!

5) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Much like 1984 until last year, To Kill a Mockingbird is a book I’ve been wanting to read for years but haven’t yet had the chance to enjoy. So as not to overindulge in dystopian fiction (again) this year, I decided to include a historical classic in my list of books to read in 2018… but, you know, one that still feels relevant to modern times. Being a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and a classic of modern American literature, I know I can’t leave this book off my bucket list!

What about you? What books are you planning to read in 2018? Any other resolutions for the new year?

My Reading Goals: Books I’ve Read in 2017

As we reach the end of 2017, it’s a good time to look back on our achievements over the past year. Back in January, I set another goal to read 10 books for the Goodreads Reading Challenge, and though I’m still technically working on it, I’m optimistic about reaching my goal again!

So following two January posts on the ten books I wanted to read this year and a midyear progress report in July, here’s my final report on my reading challenge goals for 2017. Enjoy!

2017 Reading Goal: 10 books

Total books read in 2017: 8 books (80%)

Books I planned to read this year and did

  1. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  2. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
  3. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  4. 1984, by George Orwell

Books I planned to read this year but didn’t

  1. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
  2. The Martian, by Andy Weir
  3. Shogun, by James Clavell
  4. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
  5. StarTalk, by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Books I read this year but didn’t plan to

  1. I Am Pusheen the Cat, by Claire Belton
  2. High Performance Paperback, by Ray Brehm and Jim Molinelli
  3. You Are A Writer, by Jeff Goins
  4. The Adventure, by Jennifer M Zeiger

Books I’m still reading

  1. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
  2. Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland
  3. The Business of Writing & Editing, by Sagan Morrow

And last but not least…

My Favorite Book of the Year: 1984, by George Orwell

What about you? Did you set any reading goals this year? Were you able to meet them? What were your favorite books of the year?

5 Ways Reading Makes You a Better Writer

Search for tips on how to be a better writer and you’ll find this piece of advice anywhere: read. It’s no secret that reading is good for you, but no one benefits more from reading books than people who want to write their own. Reading can teach you a lot about the craft of writing, so if you really want to improve your skills, start by expanding your library. Books are among your greatest tools for writing success!

So to elaborate on the second point of my list of good writing habits, here are five ways that reading makes you a better writer. Enjoy, and best of luck in your writing career!

5 Ways Reading Makes You a Better Writer

1) Reading teaches you the basics of story structure.

Reading Benefit - Story StructureLet’s start with the obvious, shall we? If you want to learn how to write a story, the best way to start is by reading one. It’s as simple as that—so simple, in fact, that we already learned this lesson as children!

Think about the last time you read a fairy tale or watched a Disney movie. Notice that these stories always have a very basic plot structure: Hero enters, Villain causes Conflict, Hero fights Villain, Hero defeats Villain, everyone lives Happily Ever After. Doesn’t get any simpler than that, does it?

Dramatic structure refers to these steps as exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Of course, not all stories will follow exactly the same outline—you don’t always need a villain to create conflict, for example—but regardless of content, they will invariably have structure. Reading many books in various genres will reveal what all stories have in common, and that’s the first step toward becoming a master of fiction!

2) You learn what works in a story (and what doesn’t).

Reading Benefit - What Works in a StoryAfter learning the basics of story structure, the next step is to learn how to write a good story. This is easier said than done, which is why it’s important to read as many good books as possible. Only by understanding what works in other writers’ stories can you figure out how to improve yours.

Now I know what you’re thinking: If art is subjective and everyone has different tastes, how can you know which books are “good”? The only way to be sure is by reading as many as you can and deciding for yourself what makes a story worth reading. An excellent piece of advice for beginning writers is to start by writing what you like, and you can’t know what you like unless you read!

Of course, bad books can be just as eye-opening as good ones. Who among us hasn’t tried to slog their way through a terribly written novel with flat characters and boring plot points? I know it sounds like torture, but the good news is that reading a bad book isn’t a complete waste of time: by recognizing the flaws that turn you off to someone else’s story, you’ll know what to avoid in yours. In short: Be the next J.K. Rowling, not the next Stephenie Meyer!

3) You get a better sense of how to write in your genre.

Reading Benefit - Genre WritingWhile reading is good in general, reading certain types of stories can be especially beneficial for writers. Every genre has its distinct traits, so reading in your genre of choice can teach you specific writing techniques that you couldn’t pick up from other books.

If you want to write fantasy, read series like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings to learn how to incorporate magic into your world in a logical and believable way. If you choose dystopian fiction, books like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Hunger Games will help you understand how to write a future society based on a single drastically different detail. Read Stephen King‘s stories to learn how to write thrilling suspense and horror, or read Jane Austen for a sense of how to write good romantic and historical fiction.

Whatever genre you choose to write in, read those types of books until you feel confident you can write a good story that fits the style… and then keep on reading! So long as you continue indulging in books, you’ll find that you’ll never stop learning for the rest of your writing career. Your stories can only keep getting better!

4) Books expand your imagination.

Reading Benefit - ImaginationWhen I started reading as a little kid, it opened my entire world to hundreds of new possibilities. My love of books inspired me to start writing when I was nine years old, and I’ve never looked back. I couldn’t tell you how many of my favorite story ideas have come from reading; to this day, no matter what kind of stories I write, I can always find some ideas from books I love and influence from my favorite authors in them!

Reading books is a great way to battle writer’s block because books are a rich source of ideas. You don’t have to outright copy other writers’ ideas, of course—in fact, you shouldn’t—but emulating the concepts and styles of writers you admire will help you develop more original ideas of your own in the long run.

So whenever you’re starved for ideas, pick up a novel and see what jumps off the page. You’d be surprised how many creative new ideas are hiding in plain sight on your shelf!

5) Reading replenishes your writing energy.

Reading Benefit - Writing EnergyDespite all the previous points on this list, you don’t really need any other reason to read than the fact that it’s fun! Let’s face it, we all need regular breaks from our work, even when that work is our life’s passion (like writing). If you’re just not feeling the words flow, there’s no shame in stepping away from your story for a while to read someone else’s!

Reading has been proven to relieve stress and reduce anxiety, which is extra helpful for writers. What writer hasn’t felt stressed after hours of struggling with creative blocks or self-doubt, right? (I know I have.) Even if you are feeling relaxed and productive, fiction is a great escape from mundane routine. We’ve all had to recharge after long stretches of writing, and if you’re going to pause anyway, why not use that time to indulge in a hobby that will help you get better at it?

So the next time you feel drained of the energy to write, try picking up a book. You may find it’s just the thing you need to get you back on your writing streak!

What are your thoughts on these benefits of reading? How has reading made you a better writer?

Photo by Michał Grosicki on Unsplash

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