Nineteen Eighty-Four: “I love Big Brother”

#9 Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged: 
Challenged numerous times on the grounds that it contains communist and sexual content. This book was challenged in Jackson County, Florida (1981) because the novel is “pro-communist and contains explicit sexual matter.”
My Rating: 2+2=5

I actually have no desire to rate any of the books off the list so instead, I’ll make a cute little numbers joke because I’m clever like that.

Hello, my dear readers.  Welcome to my first-ever BANNED BOOKS CHALLENGE BLOG POST.  As I stated before, I am reading the 46 most challenged classic books this year and will be blogging about it.  I actually finished Nineteen Eighty-Four a week before deciding to start this challenge, so get over it.  We’re starting with censorship and free will.

First thing’s first, this Penguin cover of Nineteen Eighty-Four is by far my favorite book cover in the history of book covers.  It’s just so perfect in defining what this book is about.  Which in itself is ironic since a book about censorship is consistently being challenged and censored (ooh, so deep, Allex!).  

Reading this was a first for me.  I tried reading it when I was twelve, but when I read those first opening lines of, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” twelve-year-old me was like, Oh shit, he’s starting off with time that doesn’t really exist.  This is gonna be tough. (I also didn’t really understand military time.)

But now, twenty-four-year-old me was all, I got this bro.  It’s nice to see that a book that had been sitting on my bookshelf for 12 years was finally picked up, read, and understood.  George Orwell was one of the first authors to write a dystopian sci-fi world even though it was set only 20 years in the future.  But what is most impressive about Nineteen Eighty-Four is how it’s still relevant today.  I can go all political on you and start talking about things, but I’ll let other articles do it instead.

This books was so challenged that all of Russia was like,  “In Mother Russia, book reads you.  Just kidding, shut it down. Do svidaniya, Orwell.”  Yeah, they banned it hard.  They saw it as a veiled attack against Stalin and peaced out real quick.

But lets talk about main characters.  Winston Smith.  Poor Winston.  He is probably the most pathetic man I have ever read about in a long time.  But he does have one thing going for him: his own free will.  He ultimately understands that his society is a lie.  He sees how Big Brother is a dick and should be put down.  So much so that he writes in a(n illegal) diary, “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER,” over and over again.

But I will be honest,  I was really bored with Part I of Nineteen Eighty-Four.  I get having to explain the society and how things work but come on, George.  Let me figure it out on my own. There is nothing I hate more than reading about a dystopian civilization and having every part of how it works explained to me.  He spent all of Part I laundry listing what each ministry did and I was not into it.

The most interesting thing was when he was writing in his diary about his experience with the prostitute.  And yeah, I guess that’s not the best thing to say, but it was!  His story was so nasty I was reading it on the train and making this face like, “Oh my god, this is so gross!  But finally something is happening!”

I also pictured Winston Bishop from New Girl the entire time I read this, which was more funny than anything else.  Picturing the colorblind, Ferguson loving, puzzle master trying to take down all of Big Brother helped me connect with Winston’s mission just a bit more.

Part II brought Julia’s character forward and she became more than Winston’s object of hated desire.  I’m not exactly sure how I felt about Julia.  I guess I was supposed to feel the same way Winston did the first times he saw her.  She was this mysterious woman who was about 15 years younger, way hotter than him, possibly a spy and in the Virgins Club.  But he wanted to bang the crap out of her/smash her head with a brick.  And as soon as she admits her undying love for him, she turns into this sex panther, bragging about the number of sexual partners she has had.

I didn’t believe Julia and Winston’s relationship.  It was like, “Well, we both hate Big Brother, so we should stick it to him by having you stick it in me.”  (I am really proud of that awful sex joke.)  Their feelings weren’t real.  She blew off Winston so many times whenever he was trying to get her invested in his ideas — or fell asleep on him. Uh, rude.  No wonder the Though Police caught them.  He had to practically shout at her information for her to listen.

Part III was by far the best of the entire book.  The whole inner workings of the Ministry of Love and how they rehabilitate anyone who strays from Big Brother.  It was actually really painful to read.  O’Brien reminded me of a prude schoolgirl who dangled sex in front Winston; sex obviously being The Brotherhood though.  It was like, look, but don’t touch for poor little Winny.  And even with the information O’Brien gave Winston, he already knew it.  He just reiterated what Winston — and the reader — had learned throughout the novel.  And then he turned out to be a dick who wanted to put a rat cage on poor Winston’s face!  I was hoping, praying that Winston got out with his free will intact.  I really became connected with the most pathetic protagonist, known as Winston Smith.  I didn’t want anything bad to happen to him.  I wanted there to be some way for him to get out of it and single-handedly bring down Big Brother.

But alas, Big Brother won.

In the end, I can kind of understand why most people weren’t happy with Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Not even Winston wanted to hear about the ugly pro he got with one time.  And he and Julia basically just loved banging each other.  But the having of the sex wasn’t the big issue here.  Orwell was trying to make a statement about totalitarianism.  About mankind slowly losing their individuality, free will, and curiosity.  About being so controlled that even your thoughts can get you killed and it’s easier to believe a lie than challenge the issue.

The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.

Want to read along with me?
Check out the Banned Books Challenge page to see my progress!

Banned Books Challenge

I have decided to do something crazy.  Because I am crazy.  For 2014, I have decided to read – and blog about – the ALA’s list of banned and challenged classics. This list is actually based off the Radcliffe’s Rival 100 Best Novels list.  And of those top 100, 46 of them are frequently banned and challenged.

I love banned books.  I find the concept of banning and challenging books fascinating and strange.  I’ve read books that I did not like.  I’ve read books that had drained my mind grapes dry.  But after reading them I didn’t think, “You know what?  Because I don’t agree with the message of this book, I am going to make sure nobody else can ever read it.”  Because if I did, The Devil Wears Prada and Frankenstein would cease to exist.

If anyone is involved in YA book news, in 2013 Rainbow Rowell, the author of the two New York Times best-sellers Eleanor & Park and Fangirl was uninvited to a Minnesota school because parents challenged the subject matter in Eleanor & Park.  If you don’t know what it’s about, here is how Rowell summarized it:

Eleanor & Park is set in 1986. It’s about two 16-year-olds who fall in love on a school bus. The story is told from both of their points of view. Eleanor, a chubby redhead, is the new kid at school, and she’s facing some pretty intense bullying. Also, she has a terrible, abusive stepdad, who makes life at home miserable. Park’s home life is pretty good – his parents love him and each other – but he’s one of the only Asian kids at school, and he listens to bands no one has heard of, and he feels like a misfit, even inside his own house.

So Eleanor and Park fall in love. Unexpectedly. And intensely. And they both feel saved by that love.

The parents’ challenging of the book sparked large debate in the YA fiction realm; BookRiot wrote an excellent piece about why banning books like Eleanor & Park is bad for YA fiction.

But I digress.  My Banned Books Challenge has actually already began.  Just last week, I finished reading George Orwell’s classic – and number 9 on the list – 1984.  So I am already on the right track, and you should expect a blog post about it later this or next week.  And although there are some books on this list that I have already read, I am going to read them again.  All 46 will (hopefully) be read by the end of 2014.  I think the best thing for me to do in continuing this challenge is to read the books in numerical order on the list, which leaves me beginning (and re-enjoying) this challenge with the American classic, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

If anyone wants to join in, I am going to add a Banned Books Challenge tab, so you can easily check out the list, and see my progress.

Happy reading!

Strangers Reading on a Train

This week something really awkward happened to me.  And yes, awkward things happen to me all the time, but this was Awkward with a capital A.  I was on a very crowded train and had to stand, which is fine, but there weren’t any poles to hold onto available so I had to reach for one of those top rails.  And seeing that I am super short, this was a) difficult to do and b) hurting my arm.  Add the fact that I was doing this and reading a book only added to my struggle.

At the next stop, a guy came on the train and wedged his way next to me.  He too was reading, and holding onto the rail above our heads.  As the car got more and more crowded, we got closer and closer until we were practically cover-to-cover.  We were also doing this awkward dance where we would shift from side to side so that although it was way too crowded, we still were able to read.

We were doing the reading robot.

At each stop I would let go of the bar, allowing my arm to rest.  The guy next to me would look at me, and he had that whole dorky-cute thing going for him so I would smile back at him.  But one of the times I had to put my arm back up, I may have accidentally grabbed his hand.

I was mortified.  We locked eyes and he could see the color draining from my face.  But then I played it cool with the whole, That didn’t just happen. Lets just keep reading our books look.  It didn’t work. Worse, when I got off at my stop, he did too.  And when I got on the next train, he did too.  And when I was cornered in the back of the cart, he was too.  I couldn’t get away from him.  He was a permanent reminder of my awkward moment.

And that is why I have no friend.

Yes, I’m Reading That Book Again

This One

Actually, six times.  For the past few weeks, I have been devouring any new book I can get my hands on.  And although it is a wonderful thing, it was severely denting my small bookshelf space and my wallet.  When I went back to Chicago for Christmas, my carry on bag was just a duffle bag full of books (my shoulders are still tired from lugging it around).  But when I made it back home, I curled up with an oldie but a goodie read, The China Garden by Liz Berry.  My copy is so worn out that the spine is just creased from overuse.  And I usually hate it when a book’s spine is ruined, but for this one, it shows the amount of love I have for this unappreciated YA treasure.  Although it was published when I was nine, I didn’t discover it until I was about twelve.  The cover art is beautiful and Berry’s writing is enchanting.  Taken from Goodreads:

  When Clare moves with her mother from London to Ravensmere, an historic English estate, she can’t shake the feeling that the residents already know her, especially Mark, a maddeningly attractive biker. Clare also feels compelled to take midnight walks in Ravensmere’s abandoned China Garden. Then her mother reveals that their own past is tragically linked to the estate. But when Clare discovers that Ravensmere is in grave danger, will she risk her future – and Mark’s – to save it?

What I loved – and still do – about The China Garden was how it entwined mythology with folklore and history.  Being the uber-geek that I was – and still am – anything mythology/folklore/fantasy-related had me purchasing it.  And the fact that the setting was in the English countryside, AND had a mysterious brooding biker as the male lead, had me done before even reading it.

But funny enough, when I was twelve and read “maddeningly attractive biker,” I was picturing something like this:
because honestly, when “maddeningly attractive biker” is said, who wouldn’t think of the always beautiful Kevin Bacon in the 80s classic film Quicksilver (this was also the time that we began paying for HBO and I began watching  80s classic films)?

Yes, it’s a bit of a cliche YA concept, but hear me out.  The male lead doesn’t even become a main player in the work until you are half-way through the book.  Which means we are centralizing on Clare, the seventeen-year-old heroine who has to make some life-altering decisions at a really young age.  The reader can actually see  her evolve from a snotty, teenage Sloane-clone from London to an intelligent, courageous and strong young woman.

So I love this book.  I love Clare.  I love Mark.  I love Ravensmere.  But more importantly, I love that whenever I pick up The China Garden I know exactly what I am getting.  And that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  When people say to me, “How can you read that book again?  You already know what happens!”  I get frustrated.  Because I can say the same thing about films to cinephiles.  I can say the same thing about video games to gamers.  I can say the same thing about sports to fanatics.  But I don’t.  Because it’s my prerogative.  Why should I tell someone that what they are doing is wrong – unless they were about to do something wrong, like stick a fork in the toaster, or read Vanity Fair for the first time.

The beauty in books is how it can bring us back to a certain time.  Every time I open The China Garden I remember my first time reading it.  I remember being in my old house in Connecticut, sitting in our living room with my feet up against the wall.  I remember how excited I was to get to the end.

We can read the same book over and over again, but still find something new within it.  Another aspect, another theme, another detail.  Something that maybe you didn’t understand the first time will become clear the second.  But it shouldn’t matter.  If you like a book/film/TV show/video game, keep loving it.  Read/watch/play it again and again.  If it makes you happy, who cares what others think.

Unless necrophilia makes you happy.  Cause that shit’s just weird.

I Hate Winter. Period.

Maybe I should rephrase that.  I hate winter in Chicago.  In London, it doesn’t really snow.  Yes, it gets cold.  But it doesn’t get a low temperature of -50 degrees Fahrenheit, with expected wind chill on top of it.  But Chicago does.

In London, this closes school:

In Chicago, that’s what people pray for.  That’s what they want to commute in.  That, up there, is child’s play.  All of London shuts down when that happens.  But not in Chicago.  Even when I lived in Connecticut, if it snowed a lot, we got a snow day.  And waking up knowing you will have a snow day vs. waking up knowing you have to go to school are two different experiences.  Snow day wake ups involve practically backflipping out of bed, and planning your entire day.Waking up knowing that you have to go to school  is the exact opposite.  There is no spring in your step.  There is nothing to look forward to.  It sucks.  But at least you have the chance of having a snow day, and the chance of waking up one morning happy.

In Chicago, if it snows, nobody cares.  Because there are plows lined up, waiting to rain on children’s parades.  I didn’t get a snow day in Illinois until I was a senior in college — and even then, I had to work so no adult snow days for me.  When my brother was younger, he used to tell my parents how he wanted to become a garbage man and then when he was fired become a snow plow man.  Although he did not know that it was possible for himself to work both jobs, honestly, why would he ever want that?  Little did he know that he would become the person all school kids hate.  He would become the person who single-handedly crushed children’s dreams with each working day.

Chicago weather is by far the most painful weather.  Extreme cold — as I have mentioned before — is the worst.  And Chicago’s extreme cold is no exception.  It cuts through you like knives.  I am wearing a scarf right now, while sitting in my parents’ den because I am so cold.  When in London, you always need to have an umbrella and sunglasses on hand because you don’t know what the weather might do.  But in Chicago, you know.  When it’s winter, you need the works.  Hat, gloves, scarf, sweater, coat, boots.  You know that scene in A Christmas Story when Randy has to put all that crap on to keep warm?

 Yeah, that’s how I dress to let the dog out in our backyard.  It’s nuts.  And horrible.

I hate snow.  I hate the way it looks, I hate the way it feels.  I hate shoveling it, snow-blowing it, driving in it, getting it in my shoe and making my toes cold, and moving it from one part of my driveway to the other.  So having to be surrounded by it is a nightmare.

It really makes me think about moving to Florida, but then I am immediately reminded how there is absolutely nothing worse than being in Florida.  Maybe I can do with San Diego or somewhere that is not LA in California.  But not Chicago.  Not until I have the ability to just spray myself down with snow-repelling spray.

Also, can someone PLEASE invent snow-repelling spray?