Reading 1984

I am supposed to read George Orwell’s 1984. The Faculty of Public Affairs in which I teach has chosen the book as the “FPA Reads” book for this academic year. And I have been asked to talk about the book on a panel on September 19th. So far, so good.

Here’s the problem: I’d rather practice scales on the oboe for hours on end or deep-clean my apartment than read the book. I voted against the book out of my vague memory that Orwell was brilliant with non-fiction, but not so much with fiction. In fact, I voted for the one book that wasn’t Orwell’s 1984 or Romeo Dallaire’s Shaking Hands with the Devil. (Soggy tales of Western military humanitarianism is another thing I’m allergic to.)

On this sunny Labour Day weekend, I will not only see how Henna dye interacts with my hair, I will also endeavour in earnest to read Orwell (though I’d much rather read The Importance of Being Earnest).

What, then, are my fears about the book? In no particular order:

1. that it is boring (vague memory of that)

2. that it lacks nuances (a book that’s about right/wrong, truth/false without ever trying to challenge or deconstruct any of these distinctions)

3. that it’s the kind of book one is supposed to like, though we’ve all forgotten why

4. it really is a Cold War book, with fear and loathing and self-righteousness

5. Master and Margarita by Michael Bulgakov would have been much more fun if we wanted to talk about power and state control

6. the novel tries to work like a description of reality, which is a dull way for a novel to proceed

7. the people who seem to be most enthusiastic about the book, and most likely to invoke it, have anger-induced high blood pressure and seem a bit, well, unhinged in general (is this a book for angry white people like Clint Eastwood?)

8. that in rejecting the state it asks us to embrace the opposition, because there is nothing in between

9. that we pretend that the book can explain anything

10. that any criticism of the book would be met with “yes, but he wrote this in the 1940s, and isn’t it amazing how perceptive it was?”

11. that (in sum) it is important but bad

Okay, so far. 10 is plenty. I have clearly stated the fears, prejudices, memories, and perceptions about the book. Now I shall put some Henna in my hair and actually read the book, all the while tweeting and blogging about it.