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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Year of Reading Backwards: Books 3 & 4: 'Animal Farm' (1945) & 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' (1949) by George Orwell

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I've been a bit slack keeping you up-to-date with my reading progress this year haven't I? I've been reading furiously as usual but somehow finding time to write about the books has been more difficult than finding the time to read them! You may remember that some time ago I decided to read George Orwell's anti-totalitarian classics, 'Animal Farm' and 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'.

I have a bit of a phobia about reading 'syllabus books' so had avoided reading these titles for years. I've always resented being compelled to read a particular book and I've never been really into the idea of pulling a book apart and putting it back together. Instead I like to experience a book as closely as possible to the way the author intended - I even wait until I've finished the book before reading the introduction and endnotes!

Anyway, I think I left my run too late to read 'Animal Farm'. The characters, plot and moral of the story are just so well known that I had a strange sense of deja-vu all the way through it. Reading 'Nineteen Eighty-Four', however, was a revelation. I was hooked from the first sentence...'It was bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen'. Although Orwell has been criticised for not writing very rounded characters, I really warmed to the main character Winston as he struggled to carve out a little piece of happiness for himself in a world where individuality and privacy are outlawed. The moments of happiness he shares with fellow worker Julia in the countryside and above the quaint old second-hand shop are like moments suspended in time as we are always aware that the life they have set up is as fragile as the glass paperweight Winston carries around with him.

As the reality of their situation starts to catch up with Winston and Julia, the second half the book develops a more serious, philosophical tone (I can well imagine my 16 year old self throwing the book aside at this point) and the sense of inevitablility that has built throughout the book comes to a climax. Will they or won't they agree to follow the party line and admit that 2 + 2 = 5?

More than sixty years on 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' is still shockingly relevant in both its description of totalitarian rule and its investigation of what makes us tick - the pull of memory, the need to connect with others and most importantly the need to have a place where we can feel 'utterley alone, utterly secure, with nobody watching you, no voice pursuing you, no sound except the singing of the kettle and the friendly ticking of the clock.'

If you haven't already read it perhaps 2011 should be the year you do...

Favourite lines...

'Winston was gelantinous with fatigue'. (I read that sentence while I was in hospital with Henry having not really slept for two nights so it really hit home!).

'He wondered, as he had many times wondered before whether he himself was a lunatic. Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one'.

'It was a heavy lump of glass, curved on one side, flat on the other, making almost a hemisphere. There was a peculiar softness, as of rain-water, in both the colour and texture of the glass. At the heart of it, magnified by the curved surface, there was a strange, pink, convoluted object that recalled a rose or a sea anenome...What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different to the present one. The soft rain-watery glass was not like any glass he had even seen. The thing was doubly attractive because of its apparent uselessness...'


  1. I loved reading about both books through your eyes Caz ... you make me want to read 1984 again (I first read it years ago, so would be interested to see if my perspective and appreciation of it has changed).

  2. I love reading book reviews, and really enjoyed this Caz. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    Although like you I usually wait until I've read the book and have my own opinion first...I've made an exception in your case. I get really pleased if I see someone else agrees with my thinking. I then feel I've found a new kindred spirit. Although I do read the blurb on the dust jacket, just so I have some general idea about the subject matter.

    Its years since I read Animal Farm we studied it in our final year of primary school with a male student teacher who all the girls had a crush on, and so we paid great attention to the lessons.

    I've never read 1984, I'll borrow it off Hannah I'm sure she mentioned it when studying a utopia/dystopia module. It sound just my cup of tea. I agree with Tracey, you make me really want to read this, so hopefully 2011 will be the year.

    It's interesting you mention the way you read. I've been trying to analyse the way I read. I think, I tend to read with a very analytical frame of mind, where I dissect every point, dictionary in hand...actually studying how I can use this. Which is why I often take so long to read something. I wondered if this is because I only graduated with my Art Degree in 2008 and so still have that kind of reading head on!?

    But I think I've always been like that. I love the idea of book groups and poetry evenings. Then I realised that there are two kinds of books I read, and I try to alternate them if I can. Some purely for entertainment and others that I think I should weird to put pressure on myself...but I think that I really do like studying and miss it... so set myself written tasks if I'm not in that environment. How wierd is that! Probably because at the moment my work doesn't put that kind of pressure on me!?

    Your post has been so useful to me...a spot of self-psychoanalysis! and a good book recommendation. Thanks caz

  3. Wow, what great responses!


    I've been doing a spot of re-reading myself with mixed results I must say but some I have definately appreciated on another level now that I am a bit older (and wiser?).


    I was so interested to hear about your reading method - so meticulous! When I was studying French many years ago I used to read novels that way, dictionary in hand, analysing each sentence to make sure I really understood what was being said. With books in English I tend to read much more voraciously which is why I always think I could benefit from some re-reading but you know what? I actually remember a lot more about each book than I think I do.

    Like you I also alternate between books for entertainment and 'books I think I should read'. I think you're right in saying that once you've studied literature it's hard to shake the habit - I guess that's what The Year of Reading Backwards' is all about! On the entertainment side I recently found a mystery series by Georgette Heyer written in the 1930s. I've only read one so far but it was a lot of fun. Very jolly hockey sticks!

  4. I didn't know that Georgette Heyer had written any mystery stories Caz ...but I'm embarrassed to say that as early teenagers a friend and I were obsessed with her romantic Regency novels...I can distinctly remember reading ones with titles like Regency Buck and Sprig Muslin...I've no idea what they were about now though...although I have a very faint recollection of Beau Brummell being mentioned and lots of dandy's and carriage chases...

    I'll keep an eye open for the mysteries...

  5. I love the cover on that version of 1984!! Hardly surprising Winston found Julia tempting! We had to read it for school, I have forgotten which year though. I think I enjoyed it at the time but then I don't recall NOT enjoying any of the books on my school syllabus. And I see you have Room with a View on the list... the film is one of my favourites, and I think I liked the book too. It's the reason I went to Florence! I even tried to do the Room with a View tour to Fiesole (where it was filmed) but the tour guide broke his arm or something so I ended up going alone... definitely worth it!

  6. Nice to hear from you again Leeyong! Glad you liked the vintage '1984' cover - I was very excited when I found it online. Like you I really love 'A Room With A View' book and movie. I first read it while I was in Paris and when I got to Florence I made a bee-line for Fiesole - a truly memorable experience as you know from your own experience!