Two Eyes Good, Four Eyes Better...
I would like to report a personal victory, and I owe it all to George Orwell. For the avid readers among us, it is impossible to imagine a world without books. If my mother is to be believed, when I was a toddler, she would give me a pile of papers, magazine and pictures, and I would be distracted endlessly. Reading is not just escapism, learning, enjoyment, or enrichment. It is more like oxygen and water: it is pure sustenance. So, it is with some degree of disappointment that none of my kids seem to need or want this energetic force. I know that each one of us is different, and that his or her inspiration and drive is fuelled by diverse triggers; however, would it be so awful to have one child who shares my love for fiction, non-fiction and anything in between?
I have a fourteen-year-old son who very proudly professes that he refuses to read. He has handed in the same book report on Mark Twain's 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer', for the third year in a row, having never read the book. His teacher changes every year, but his grade remains well in the high 90s. What that says about grading and the education system we can debate another time.
So it is summer, and his teacher – for once – will be the same when the new year begins. She has assigned a book report project to all of the kids, with a very ominous threat: "I will know," she said in a solemn voice, " if you haven't read the book. I will be able to tell, if you read the summary on the Internet, or if you saw a movie version. The consequences will be swift and severe." Notwithstanding my morbid curiosity to see what consequences she is referring to, I would rather these not be at the expense of my son. So, I have been racking my brain trying to come up with a book that is simple – but complex, short – but comprehensive, acceptable in all literary forums –but not so hifalutin or grand that it is completely inaccessible to a 14-year-old who thinks reading is a "complete waste of time". Enter George Orwell and 'Animal Farm'. The book beckoned me from a high-up book shelf in my local book store. It winked, waved and whispered, "take me..." so I shrugged, shook my head sceptically, and climbed up on a step ladder to reach for it.
I am happy to report that the results have been beyond my expectations.
"The pigs are the good guys," announced my son, a few days ago.
"Hold that thought," I said to him.
"Four legs good, two legs bad," he chanted yesterday morning before he switched over to his game of Fortnite.
"Hold that thought," I said to him again.
"What else has George Orwell written?" he asked me last night. I stopped myself from doing the celebratory dance from Fortnite that I have seen him do on many an occasion, and automatically reached out for my glasses. I took them off and began to clean them with a corner of my shirt, even though there wasn't a smudge in sight. A Freudian reaction, of course – I couldn't believe my own four-eyes. I cleared my throat, trying not to betray my excitement. "Well," I said, "you know how Reality TV has a whole bunch of programs which focus on 'Big Brother'," I am unable to conceal a sniff of disgust, "did you know that George Orwell, coined that phrase? He wrote about a world in which there is no privacy and your every move is monitored, observed from near and far, by a disturbing and invisible authoritarian leader."
"Wow," said my son with big, curious eyes. "He invented that? I think I would like to read that next."
"OK," I said, returning my glasses to their natural state on the bridge of my nose, "The book is called '1984', I will get you a copy."
Victory! Thanks George Orwell.