5 Literary Villains That Would Make a Better President Than Donald Trump

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On November 8, 2016, the fate of America – and perhaps the world – will be decided in what is possibly the most important, and least appealing, Presidential vote in our lifetimes. Although Hilary Clinton is proving to be one of the least popular candidates ever (and with good reason), it’s fair to say that, when compared with Donald J. Trump, she is undoubtedly the lesser of two evils.

To make my point, I’ve selected 5 of the most despicable literary villains that I can think of and have argued that every single one of them would make a better President than Donald Trump.

1. Petyr Baelish, from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and HBO’s Game of Thrones 

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Why He Would Make a Better President than Trump:

Petyr Baelish, better known as ‘Littlefinger’, is one of the craftiest and most calculating characters in Westeros. However, unlike Trump, he knows how to talk to people and get them to do what he wants. Plus, he managed to do wonders for Kings Landing’s economy while he was Master of Coin (even if most of the growth came from his brothels!). He might be a truly terrible human being with a fondness for throwing people out of the Moon Door, but you know he’s bound to come out on top in the political arena, even if he can’t wield a sword to save his life.

2. Count Dracula, from Dracula by Bram Stoker

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Why He Would Make a Better President than Trump:

Like Trump, he’s mocked for his strange appearance and probably shouldn’t spend any more time in the sun, but unlike Trump, Dracula’s actually not such a bad guy: he’s intelligent, well-cultured, and has managed not to lose his fortune despite being alive for centuries. Plus, he treats his foreign guests with respect and offers them hospitality. He just likes his meat on the rare side is all!

3. Dolores Umbridge, from J.K. Rowling’s (and Warner Bros.’) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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Why She Would Make a Better President than Trump:

Even though she corrupted wizarding law to persecute innocent Muggle-borns, took clear pleasure in torturing children and spent an entire year not teaching her students Defence Against the Dark Arts, she at least had the good manners to cough before interrupting someone.

4. Coriolanus Snow, from Suzanne Collins’ (and Lionsgate’s) Hunger Games trilogy

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Why He Would Make a Better President than Trump:

Being prepared to drink poison to ensure the downfall of your enemies isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but it does at least show commitment. Plus, it’s important to point out that Snow actually knows how to run a country, or at least Panem… plus he’s media-savvy (I mean, he managed to turn the ritual slaughter of his citizens into a popular TV franchise, and that takes skill) and has excellent taste in flowers.

5. Satan, from Paradise Lost by John Milton

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Why He Would Make a Better President than Trump:

…because he’s so smooth he made Jesus look bad. If you’re going to lure America into evil, you’d better have a more convincing argument than “we need to start winning again!”

Can you think of any literary villains you’d rather see in the Oval Office than the Orange Anomaly? Let me know in the comments below!

(Images: HBO, Politico, WB Studios, Lionsgate, Wikipedia)

Arundhati Roy’s Back with a New Novel, 20 Years After The God of Small Things

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The literary world rejoiced this week as Arundhati Roy, winner of the 1997 Booker Prize for her debut novel The God of Small Things, announced she will publish a new piece of fiction in 2017 entitled The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

Speaking in a Hamish Hamilton UK and Penguin India press release, Arundhati expressed her joy that “the mad souls (even the wicked ones) in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness have found a way into the world, and that I have found my publishers.”

Although little is known about the novel as of yet, its editors Simon Prosser (Hamish Hamilton) and Meru Gokhale (Penguin India) have been generous with their praise, calling their association with the book “both a pleasure and an honour” and stating the text is “one of the finest we have read in recent times.” David Godwin, the agent managing the acquisition of rights to the book, added that “only Arundhati could have written this novel. Utterly original. It has been 20 years in the making, and [is] well worth the wait.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Arundhati Roy’s work, then The God of Small Things is well worth a read. It tells the story of Rahel and Esthappen, fraternal twins full of secrets whose varying experiences of the laws of Love – that is, “who should be loved, and how… and how much” – have left them damaged and traumatised, with one sibling living in silence and the other being left in a state of insatiable emptiness. The end result is somewhat difficult to describe: the novel functions as both political fable and psychological family drama, yet its overall effect is more akin to that of a fairytale, or perhaps a half-forgotten dream.

Time is splintered and disordered meaning Roy’s text constantly meanders, but these tangents and side-steps can be easily forgiven as readers are kept well-entertained along the way. Revelations are staggered between sentences that are repeated like mantras, giving the narrative a sure and steady rhythm not unlike poetry, and although there are times at which the author’s rich and evocative language can become somewhat overwhelming, one cannot help but become completely immersed in the sights, sounds, smells and sensations that Roy so adeptly describes.

If this doesn’t really sound like your cup of tea, it’s worth noting that Roy is also a prolific political and cultural writer – her non-fiction works, tackling everything from Gandhi’s racism and freedom of the press to femininity and India’s nuclear program, are available in most good bookstores.

(Image: Penguin Random House UK)

Novel Dedications

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Usually, the dedications page of a text is somewhat of a formality – the author thanks their family, or a colleague whose assistance has been invaluable, and the book proceeds with no further ado.

However, I’d like to draw attention in this post to those authors who have used their wit, humour and honesty in order to create dedications that are, quite simply, novel.

I’ve listed a few that I think are worthy of note below. How many do you recognise?


House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

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Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith E. Hicks

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Ruins by Dan Wells

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The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell

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Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

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The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

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Just A Girl Standing In Front Of A Boy by Lucy-Anne Holmes

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No Thanks by E. E. Cummings

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An Introduction To Algebraic Topology by Joseph J. Rotman

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The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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Makbara by Juan Goytisolo

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A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

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Hope you enjoyed them!

If you know of any other great dedications, feel free to comment and add to the list! 🙂

Discovering ‘Literary Starbucks’…

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Recently, I came across a blog that made me laugh out loud – the Tumblr site, known as ‘Literary Starbucks’, basically imagines the literary greats coming in to order a coffee.

Some of the entries are odd, sad, or downright laughable, but all act as a sort of love letter to the author/theorist/other famous person of choice.

I’ve added a few of my favourites below.

Why not add one of your own in the comments section? I’d love to hear from you!

 


Foucault

Michel Foucault goes up to the counter and orders an iced coffee. Is his choice a product of his past or his present? Aren’t we all just at the whim of the power structures that control our society? Should we abandon this Starbucks and take control of our own beverages? What do we know about coffee? What do any of us know about anything? The barista, not surprisingly, quits her job.

Tolstoy

Tolstoy stumbles up to the counter, clutching a ragged, grey blanket around his shoulders. “Is it cold in here?” he stammers. “I feel like it’s cold in here.” The barista, too, is shivering. He offers Tolstoy a small cup of hot coffee. Snow drifts into the shop from the street. The barista nestles against the counter to conserve warmth. Tolstoy decides that the only way to survive is to leave the Starbucks and the barista behind. He wanders for what seems like an eternity, but he is still no closer to the door. The barista calls out to him. Tolstoy fights his way through the snow back to his barista, and they huddle together as they succumb to hypothermia.

Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss cheerfully goes up to the counter.
He orders a frosty fluff iced tea flan flouter.
He stays very still
His drink remains chilled
He waits (very patient) for his cup to be filled.
He calls to the shop, “I speak for the teas, for the teas have no tongues.
“And I’m asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs,
“Why is my cup taking so long to fill?
“I’ve been standing here, waiting, with my five-dollar bill.”
And finally, after a long, quiet pause,
He lets out a series of hearty guffaws.
“I’m sorry, good sir,”
He cries out with a smile,
“It’s totally fine my drink’s taking a while.
“I’ll stand here and read, wearing nothing but tweed,
“And I know that my drink will be done with great speed.”
He stands and he waits,
And he waits,
And he waits,
And finally, now it’s a quarter to eight,
He hears the barista call out, “Theodore!”
Dr. Seuss stands up and goes for the door.
The barista calls out, “Good sir, here’s your drink!”
Dr. Seuss turns around and tries hard to think.
“I’m so sorry again,” he says with a smile,
“It’s just I’d forgotten my surname was Geisel.”

Achilles

Achilles goes up to the counter, oozing confidence. He orders two venti caramel macchiatos. “That’s a lot of coffee,” says the barista. “Are you sure you can handle it?” “Of course!” cries Achilles. “I’m practically immortal!” He gets the drinks and begins to walk out of the store. He trips over the threshold, and a little bit of the scalding hot coffee spills down the back of his leg. He dies immediately.

Dahl

Roald Dahl goes up to the counter and orders a grande hot chocolate and a tall peach green tea. He offers the foxy barista a piece of gum. She takes it and promptly turns into a blueberry. He leaves the shop and walks down the street with his extraordinarily tall companion.

Miller

Arthur Miller goes up to the counter and orders a venti coffee black, no cream or sugar. He sits down in the corner and drinks it slowly. By the time he’s finished, he has failed as a husband, a father, a man, and an American.

Hamlet

Hamlet goes up to the counter and can’t decide what to order.

Wordsworth

Wordsworth goes up to the counter and orders a smoothie. It reminds him of a lake he visited once as a child. Then again, so do most things.

Austen

Austen goes up to the counter and orders a cinnamon spice latte. The barista is a bore. The man behind her in line orders exactly what she orders; he too is a bore. He is handsome in the conventional sense, but there is no chance they could ever be married.


View the ‘Literary Starbucks’ Tumblr here: http://literarystarbucks.tumblr.com/

(Image: Literary Starbucks)

 

And The Award Goes To… #3 (Best First and Last Lines)

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OK, I’m going to pick up where I left off last time, so if you’re unfamiliar with this string of posts, please click here and here to catch up 🙂 Enjoy! And, as always, feel free to chip in with your own ideas in the comments section…

I’ve only proposed a few, as I could play this game forever! Do you have any favourite opening or closing lines?


Best First Lines

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”  – A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – 1984 by George Orwell

“If this typewriter can’t do it, then fuck it, it can’t be done.” – Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” – Murphy by Samuel Beckett

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.” – The Crow Road by Iain Banks

 

Best Last Lines

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Are there any questions?” The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

“Go, my book, and help destroy the world as it is.” – Continental Drift by Russell Banks

“I never saw any of them again, except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.” – The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

“This is not the scene I dreamed of. Like much else nowadays I leave it feeling stupid, like a man who lost his way long ago but presses on along a road that may lead nowhere.” Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

“It was the nightmare of real things, the fallen wonder of the world.” – The Names by Don DeLillo

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” –  The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

 

Banned Books Week: Recommended Reads #8, #9 & #10 (Young Readers’ Edition)

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BANNED

As some of you might already be aware, this week (21st – 27th September 2014) is Banned Books Week. Held annually (usually in the last week of September), this event celebrates our freedom to read and to express ideas, even those books which are considered by some to be unorthodox, offensive and/or unpopular.

To mark this occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time this week taking a look at a few of the most important, influential, beautiful, and controversial books that, at some point in history, have been banned. My intent here is not necessarily to endorse these books (although, there are some on this list that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives), but to simply celebrate the fact that we now live in a world where books no longer need to be burned. After all, as Mary Jo Godwin once said, “a truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone”.

All of the banned books I have considered so far have really been aimed at an adult-only audience, so I thought I would dedicate this post to looking at content for all the younger readers out there. I know what you’re thinking – who would ban a kid’s book?! The sad truth is that numerous children’s titles feature on the Banned Books list, though the justification for this in many cases is poor.

This is actually something I feel quite strongly about. As a child, I was an avid reader, and was always looking outside my comfort zone for new material – aged 11, I fought (with the assistance of my mother) for the right to own an adult library card, and thus to read whatever I liked, instead of being limited by what the school thought was ‘age appropriate’. I found the idea that books were ‘unsuitable’ for my young, malleable mind illogical and, frankly, quite insulting!

I think adolescence is the perfect time for exploration and new discoveries, as it offers youngsters the opportunity to see the world from different perspectives… that doesn’t mean that they’re going to freak out if they read something challenging, or difficult, or sad. I believe that by limiting the reading material, you are effectively limiting the child.

OK, OK, rant over… I’ll pop my soapbox away! Let’s move on to my eighth, ninth and tenth considerations of the week so far…


Book #8: The Lorax, by Dr Seuss

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The Lorax
is a whimsical little story about a woodland creature, named the Lorax, who lives among the trees. The Once-ler, another little creature in the forest, cuts down trees and uses them for multiple uses. The Lorax quickly realises that the Once-ler is killing the forest, and so persuades him to stop cutting down trees. The End. Sounds like a cutesy, sweet little story with a happy ending, right? So, why oh why would anyone want to ban it?

Well, California didn’t agree. As home of the one of the largest logging industries in the world, certain Californians did not take kindly to The Lorax portraying the foresting industry in an arguably negative way. They felt that this book could potentially persuade children that the logging industry was a bad thing. In the face of increasing worries regarding climate change and the future of our great planet, I would argue that perhaps the children should see logging as a bad thing. After all, until you see a problem, you’re not likely to start thinking about a solution, are you? The sooner we realise that the rate that we are cutting down trees is not sustainable – I know that more trees are planted to compensate for those cut down, but these take too long to grow to full size for the damage done to truly be offset – the sooner we are likely to think of another way of doing things; a better way. If the children are our future, then shouldn’t we let the harsh reality that Earth’s days are numbered start to sink in now?

If you’re not familiar with Dr Seuss, they’re wonderful for younger children. I still keep a book of tales on my shelf, and look back on them with love.


Book #9
(although, technically, this is a series encompassing 7 books…
but let’s not get fussy!):
The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling

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Yes, I’m serious – Harry Potter, the highest selling children’s books series of all time, was banned throughout America. Why? Well, amongst other reasons, a number of religious groups claimed that the fantasy series about young wizards promoted occultism and paganism, thereby undermining Christian values.

For me, this makes no sense at all. Yes, it’s a fantasy book, and so it contains wizards, dragons, and magic. It also contains one of the strongest examples in recent times of a story where love conquers evil, friendship endures through tragedy, and the good guy wins in the end. We haven’t had a story of such archetypal strength, arguably, since Star Wars! There is a very good reason why adults love these books just as much as the children do.

In literary circles, Rowling is scorned – something which, I’m now ashamed to admit, kept me from reading these books initially (thinking that they were “just for kids”) – and looked down on for her frequent mentioning of candles, stone walls, and stairs, as if somehow this is not ‘creative’ enough. Well – Hogwarts is a castle, what did you expect? Is the language of magic not intriguing (the spells and incantations, the ingredients, the curses, the fairy tales)? Are you not fascinated by the world that she has created; one that could exist beneath the very noses of Muggles like us? I challenge anyone to read these books and not have their inner child cry out to visit Diagon Alley, eat a Chocolate Frog, or ride on a Nimbus 2000.

I actually think (now that I’ve put my intellectual snobbery aside) that the books are actually rather well-written – the storyline is ripe with twists and turns that constantly keep you guessing, you fall in love with the characters right from the start, and there’s not a single loose end left over when you reach the final page. Not many authors can claim such workmanship. The idea that anyone would want to ban these books makes me sad.

If you’ve never read it – whether you’re 4, 14, or 40 – I would thoroughly recommend that you give it a chance. That’s all I ask. You won’t regret it (although, you might need a box of tissues handy, just in case).


Book #10: Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne

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Winnie the Pooh is another childhood favourite: I look back on Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga and Roo as old playmates. I can’t quite imagine my childhood without them. However, this classic has been banned in a variety of countries at different points throughout history, including Russia, China, Turkey, and even England and the United States.

So, why would anyone want to ban such a seemingly harmless and charming story about a group of talking animals? Well, in some cases, the very fact that they were talking animals was grounds for an issue – creating such a thing was considered an ‘insult to God’. Piglet came under fire from certain Muslim groups, who claimed that the character was offensive to them (as Piglet is, of course, a pig – an animal considered unclean by the Muslim faith). In the case of the banning in Russia, it occurred because the book had ‘alleged Nazi ties’ (in truth, the ban was based on a single person who was found to own a picture of a swastika-adorned Pooh… apparently, this one case was evidence enough for Russia that Winnie the Pooh was pro-Nazi, and therefore anti-Russia).

In short, all of the bans are pretty absurd. This book teaches the importance of kindness to others, tolerance of those who are different to you, and sticking together through tough times. In my eyes, that’s exactly what children should be being taught. If you’re unfamiliar with Pooh and the gang, I would suggest getting acquainted, especially if you have little ones around – they’ll love both the drawings and the stories!

(Images: Amazon)


Want more information on Banned Books Week 2014?
Visit: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/banned


Banned Books Week: Recommended Reads #6 & #7

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BANNED

As some of you might already be aware, this week (21st – 27th September 2014) is Banned Books Week. Held annually (usually in the last week of September), this event celebrates our freedom to read and to express ideas, even those books which are considered by some to be unorthodox, offensive and/or unpopular.

To mark this occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time this week taking a look at a few of the most important, influential, beautiful, and controversial books that, at some point in history, have been banned. My intent here is not necessarily to endorse these books (although, there are some on this list that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives), but to simply celebrate the fact that we now live in a world where books no longer need to be burned. After all, as Mary Jo Godwin once said, “a truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone”.

So, on to my sixth and seventh considerations of the week so far…


Book #6: Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

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Chances are, you’re already familiar with this particular book – if not, then you’re in for a treat. Published in 1963 (the year after the Cuban missile crisis had brought humanity closer to annihilation than ever before), Vonnegut’s text is a darkly comic exploration of humankind’s ‘condition’, in an age when the world had quite literally gone MAD. The reasons for its censorship in certain Ohio schools in 1972 remain unclear to this day – some believe that its clear anti-war stance was a contributing factor, whereas others believe it was simple blind ignorance and that, in fact, those banning the book hadn’t even bothered to read it (same old story, eh?).

So, why read it? Apart from the fact that it is a literary classic, it also manages to strike the perfect balance between the comic and the bleak that defines an age overshadowed by nuclear anxiety. The phoney religion that Vonnegut cooks up (Bokononism, and the corresponding Books of Bokonon) show how keen human beings are to give over themselves to ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’, even when they are fully aware that such forces are a figment of their imagination. Furthermore, the book makes an increasingly relevant point regarding mankind’s responsibilities in the face of a God that either doesn’t exist, or doesn’t care – that no one is coming to save us, and if someone presses the big red button, BOOM! That’s the end of everything. In Cat’s Cradle, the world ends in ice instead of fire, but this too can be understood as a metaphor for nuclear winter – the consequence of setting off nuclear bombs.

Vonnegut also makes some rather interesting points about the nature of scientific exploration – that, often, it is devoid of morality. The deadly substance in this novel, ice-nine, was created to solve a relatively mundane military problem (i.e. how to solidify mud so that troops can easily pass over it, instead of getting bogged down), and the other uses for it were all-but-ignored in the quest for knowledge – the fact that the substance, if misused, would contaminate the world’s water supply is considered irrelevant to the puzzle at hand. That ‘knowledge’ brings about the end of the world… so, as you can see, the metaphors for nuclear war are multitudinous here.

The book does have its critics:  some have described Vonnegut’s characters as no more than caricatures, and think his disparaging portrayal of a greedy, selfish, thoughtless human race is too harsh and polarised to be fully believable. For instance, his Dr Hoenikker – the archetypal nuclear scientist – is devoid of any conscience whatsoever, even when faced with the consequences of his creation. His three offspring – Frank, Angela and Newt – are also used to demonstrate just how easily an individual’s morality can fail. All three characters barter away their portion of ice-nine for a governmental position, attractive husband and a week on Cape Cod with a Russian midget respectively, then reassure themselves that the decision was a good one, because they themselves benefitted from the transaction. They, too, fail to take responsibility for placing the ice-nine in the hands of those who will bring about the end of all things.

However, I think Vonnegut manages to capture the absurdity of the situation quite well – that these people are, effectively, squabbling over the right to own the planet’s doom… they will kill, lie, cheat and steal for it, because it represents power and, really, what does humankind desire more than life? Power. And the squabble for this power, dear friends, may one day be what kills us all off. For this reason, if for no other, the novel remains relevant as ever, in my opinion.


Book #7: 1984, by George Orwell

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What can I say that hasn’t been said already? If you’ve never read Orwell’s 1984 before – READ IT! It is quite simply one of the greatest, well-crafted, most devastating books you will ever read in your lifetime. It takes a long, hard look at some of the most important issues of our time: surveillance by the state, class divides, linguistic limitations, power/control, domination/submission, and war. As time passes, the novel seems to get closer and closer to the truth – which, actually, is the most terrifying thing about it.

For instance, Orwell adeptly demonstrates how language is used by those in authority to control its users, and just how easily we surrender that control. Those in power in Orwell’s novel have complete control over all of the information the population is given. This is a pertinent point, given our own reliance on the media for information in reality, and the increasingly digital nature of our communications and records of history. In 1984, Big Brother exploits the temporary nature of the Internet by effectively re-writing Oceania’s history again and again in order to fabricate an eternal war. So, when going into war with Eurasia, history is re-written to declare that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

The public are encouraged to hate their enemy by watching visual propaganda at scheduled times each day. Any deviants from the political and behavioural norms approved by the Ministry are rooted out by the ‘Thought Police’ – with children being some of its most fervent soldier – and taken to Room 101. There, they are broken; they will abandon their own logic and reason; give up on love, hope, and defiance; believe that two plus two does not make four.

Another interesting aspect of the novel is now the language used by those in the novel has begun to shrink, into something known as ‘Newspeak’. Unnecessary and undesirable words are eliminated from the language and, by proxy, are also eliminated from the collective consciousness (a fascinating theory – see Sapir-Whorf’s hypothesis of linguistic relativity and determinism for more information about this idea). For example, the word ‘free’ is stripped of its political connotations in a bid to eliminate freedom itself. So, in ‘Newspeak’ the speaker is unable to express the concept of freedom of speech; political freedom; the freedom to disagree. It merely serves to describe the absence of something (as in ‘the garden is free of weeds’), which is ironic when you consider the absence of the freedom of the speakers of ‘Newspeak’.perceive reality differently.

This is, quite simply, one of the best books ever written. Everyone should read it at least once. Be prepared, though – it does not have a happy ending.

(Images: Amazon)


Want more information on Banned Books Week 2014?
Visit: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/banned