1. “1984”, George Orwell

So, here’s my first new entry, and I’ll count it as my first book since November, even though it was a book I read to teach, rather than just for me. But I figure that I could get a break on it, since I ended up reading it about four times over the past two months.

This is the first book I have ever taught, so I think it has earned a special place in my heart. I picked this book sort of randomly. I knew that we were going to be working on the government, since it is an election year, and when I met with my mentor teacher over the summer, she suggested picking a book that had something to do with government. I am a cynic and easily intimidated, so I panicked and suggested a dystopian novel, though what I had in mind at the time was “Player Piano” by Kurt Vonnegut. I hadn’t realized at that time that that book was about 350 pages long. 1984 clocks in at 299, which isn’t much better, but I felt more okay with asking students to read three hundred pages of the quintessential dystopian novel.

As it ended up, the book came in late, on a week when Jessie was out for surgery. I was a wreck and I had only five weeks to teach it– less, because of Thanksgiving and random days off. My students read the first chapter out of photocopied packets. I need to say again that I was a wreck.

There was something magical about this book for me, though. The students who are least likely to buy what I am selling really seemed to respond to it. R, who can be brilliant when he isn’t standing up in the middle of class to punch another student in the head (true stories. STORIES, plural) told me that the reason that he was doing all of the reading guides I assigned them (and there were a lot) was that 1984 was “actually a good book”. Another student had told me that I lied to her when I said it was a bad book (I said it was good. She said teachers were always wrong and it must be bad). A lot of students really stepped up, had good discussions, made smart connections, and asked interesting, brilliant questions (“Is Big Brother real? Or is he just a figure like Uncle Sam?”). Also, the phrase “lunatic enthusiasm” just feels like a thick velvet blanket. It is delightful. I don’t even usually like velvet.

On my last day of in-class teaching, I was feverishly grading some assignments that I really needed to pass back right after lunch. I was in the middle of R’s paper when suddenly my heart hurt. I looked up at Jessie and said “My heart just grew three sizes”. R, like so many of my students, was using words like doublethink, Newspeak, and thoughtcrime fluently. These were words and ideas that had come to mean something to them. We finished the final chapter out loud in class that day, and many of my students were incensed, as I was, with the ending of the book. They grappled with the last four words– J pointed out that, yeah, that’s how it would have to end, and you see it coming, but you don’t want it to end that way. G and N were really upset that Winston sold out Julia. When I gave the class an assignment to write a final diary entry for Winston explaining what happened five years after he got out of MiniLuv, several students had Winston and Julia get back together. They examined motives, were intuitive and sensitive, showed the affect of the government on its people. They were amazing. One student– we’ll call her Ginny Martinez– had Winston marry a woman called Jenny Rodriguez– she wrote herself into the story!

This book taught me a lot about how to get students involved and what they look for in books.

I want to high five George Orwell.

Page count: 299 Total: 299

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