I’ve been called a lot of things, but “intellectual” is not one of them. I like to think that I have a good grasp on the world around me and a better-than-decent education to boot, …
I’ve been called a lot of things, but “intellectual” is not one of them. I like to think that I have a good grasp on the world around me and a better-than-decent education to boot, but “intellectual?” Pseudo, maybe, but that very word means “not genuine.”
When I learned that the theme for this year’s Deep Water Literary Festival would be the life and times of author George Orwell, best known for “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (published in 1945 and 1949, respectively) I was intrigued.
I knew virtually nothing about the man, other than those two novels, and that was based on reading both while in high school. Budding pseudo-intellectual that I was, I’m sure I pretended to understand the nuances of the books, and like many, was terrified by their implications, but did I really grasp what I was reading? Unlikely.
“Animal Farm” is considered one of Orwell’s finest works and is described by Wikipedia as “a political fable based on the events of Russia’s Bolshevik revolution and the betrayal of the cause by Joseph Stalin.” Did I know that? Um…
I definitely knew that “Animal Farm” concerns a group of barnyard animals who overthrow and chase off their exploitative human masters and set up an egalitarian society of their own. At the time, I likened it to something else I’d read—William Golding’s frightening “Lord of the Flies.” I might be wrong, but now I’m thinking Golding was influenced by Orwell? I don’t know; I’m not that smart.
“Nineteen Eighty-Four” (also published as “1984”) is internet-described as “a dystopian social science fiction novel and cautionary tale which centers on the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance and repressive regimentation of people and behaviors within society,” with an emphasis on “constant propaganda [being employed] to persecute individuality and independent thinking.” Sure, I knew that.
Additionally, “1984” is responsible for popularizing terms like “Thought Police,” “Doublethink,” “Newspeak,” and “Big Brother,” all of which have become ingrained in the English lexicon.
Writing words like “ingrained” makes me sound smarter than I really am, so there’s that.
Last Friday, I took my seat at the Tusten Theater in Narrowsburg, NY, to learn more about Orwell. That was thanks to biographer D.J. Taylor (“Orwell: The Life”), who was on hand to discuss his latest—a biographical sequel titled “Orwell: The New Life” during a lively on-stage conversation with critic Liesl Schillinger.
I learned a great deal, including that Orwell also wrote “Down and Out in Paris and London,” “Burmese Day,” and “The Road to Wigan Pier”; that he died at the age of 46; and that he led a somewhat unsavory personal life, in tandem with his controversial reputation as a writer.
Honestly, I did not fully understand portions of the conversation presented that evening, and was surprised to learn that Orwell had been so prolific during his short career. I didn’t feel dumb, per se, but it was a not-so-gentle reminder that I’m “no genius” either, as my mother was fond of pointing out when I got a little “too big for my britches.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the obvious parallels between Orwell’s futuristic society as written in 1949 and modern-day 2023, or why festival founder Aaron Hicklin (www.onegrandbooks.com) landed on this year’s Orwellian theme.
The concept of a totalitarian society as envisioned by Orwell was frightening then; while it’s been almost 75 years since his imaginative prediction of what life could look like in 1984, he wasn’t that far off.
Out of the 30-odd events scheduled for the 2023 literary festival, one that caught my interest was listed as “Drag Queen Story Hour.” It featured performer Lyra Vega, reading “Ferdinand the Bull” (banned by Hitler, and embraced by Gandhi), and “Julian is a Mermaid,” a children’s picture book that stirred controversy among some parents for its depiction of a gender-nonconforming child. Oy.
Last year, Barnes & Noble announced the top-10 banned and challenged books in libraries and schools. The list included “Animal Farm” and “1984.”
I attended the story hour, but am scratching my head over parents’ concerns about clownishly attired drag queens reading storybooks to kids. If Bozo can do it, why can’t Lyra Vega? I’m not that smart, but shouldn’t we be more concerned about kids carrying guns to school? Looks like we’re back to the future, and that ain’t good. In my humble opinion.
The Deep Water Literary Festival is “dedicated to promoting the literary arts in Narrowsburg, NY, with a view to building community by fostering engagement with story-telling in all its forms. Deep Water is committed to the development, expression and promotion of literature and art that reflects the voices and concerns of underrepresented and diverse communities.”
For more, visit www.deepwaterfestival.com.
For the Barnes and Noble list of banned books for 2022, visit www.barnesandnoble.com/b/banned-books/_/N-rtm.
Ask the Google: Q—What is dystopian? A—“relating to or denoting an imagined society where there is great suffering or injustice.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here