Tag Archives: George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-Four

my writing; a response to my critics

 

 

‘my writing; a response to my critics’

 

 

In this post, I have tried to consider and respond to criticisms of my writing which have been made by readers of this blog from time to time. In responding, I have used my own writing and writing of acknowledged masters as a basis for drawing conclusions about matters such as verbosity, big words versus little ones, simplicity versus complexity in style, supposed pomposity, when one is entitled to have an opinion, and so on. By explaining what I feel are legitimate reasons for writing the way I do, I hope to be able to shed some light on the writing process.

This post is now here as a Word document (see above). Is seemed to make sense to do this. Somehow, in making a revision, I had erased a good portion of the posted text.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018

vengeance

 

 

If I whet My glittering sword,
And My hand takes hold on judgment,
I will render vengeance to My enemies,
And repay those who hate Me.

— Deuteronomy 32:41

 

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

— Isaiah 53:3

 

The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.

— William Blake, “Jerusalem”

 

A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.

— William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”

 

 

 

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This post is about yesterday’s news stories about the sentencing of “monster doctor” Larry Nassar to a term of 40 to 175 years for sexual abuse.

Before I get to my main point – actually, points — I would like to mention some of my deep feelings about human suffering and sympathy.

My mother used to say to me that she had always wished one of her children would become a doctor. She used to say how much she admired our pediatrician, Dr. Cohen, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was the type of caring, humane physician she most admired. He was the type of doctor who was always on call.

I would always say to her, “I couldn’t be a doctor. I can’t stand the sight of blood.” And, indeed, the sight of people or animals suffering, just the thought of it, was something that deeply upset me. Once, I observed boys torturing frogs in a local reservoir with their pocket knives. This greatly upset me. It also struck me that there was no reason for such cruelty, and I couldn’t understand what motivated the boys or why they enjoyed it. I had such feelings about suffering in general, including emotional pain, even minor emotional hurts.

To repeat, I hate to see needless suffering: inflicted upon others; experienced by them.

 

 

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Yesterday, on January 24, 2018, Dr. Lawrence Nassar was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of from 40 to 175 years by Ingham County (Michigan) Circuit Court judge Rosemarie Aquilina for molesting young girls and women. Larry Nassar, D.O., is a 54-year-old former Michigan State University and USA gymnastics team physician who has also been sentenced (in November 2017) to 60 years in federal court on child pornography charges.

Judge Aquilina, who had opened her courtroom to all the young women victims who wanted to address Dr. Nassar directly, forced him to listen when he pleaded to make it stop.

“It is my honor and privilege to sentence you,” she said yesterday, and noting the length of the sentence, added, “I just signed your death warrant.”

Given an opportunity to address the court before sentencing, Dr. Nassar apologized and, occasionally turning to the young women in the courtroom, said: “Your words these past several days have had a significant effect on myself and have shaken me to my core. I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days.”

Just before sentencing Dr. Nassar, the judge read parts of a letter that he had submitted to the court last week, in which he complained about his treatment in a separate federal child pornography case and wrote that his accusers in this case were seeking news media attention and money. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” he wrote in the letter. There were audible gasps from the gallery when the judge read that line.

Dr. Nassar was accused of molesting girls as young as six, many of them Olympic gymnasts, over a period of many years under the guise of giving them medical treatment. In November, he had pleaded guilty to sexually abusing seven girls.

Judge Aquilina was a fierce advocate for the victims, often praising or consoling them after their statements.

“Imagine feeling like you have no power and no voice,” Aly Raisman, an American gymnast and Olympic gold medal winter, said in court. “Well, you know what, Larry? I have both power and voice, and I am only just beginning to use them. All these brave women have power, and we will use our voices to make sure you get what you deserve: a life of suffering spent replaying the words delivered by this powerful army of survivors.”

 

 

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I hate to see anyone suffer. And that includes Larry Nassar. I wish he could be given some hope.

I hope I do not appear to be minimizing the horrors of what the girls who were abused by Nasar experienced. Perhaps I am. I don’t know what it was like.

 

 

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A sad story. Horrible. So what do I think? And why should anyone care what I think?

That I wonder: is anyone completely beyond redemption?

Should the purpose of punishment be to humiliate and make an example of the victim? To make a statement? I think that that is what the judge was doing. The trial has given her the stage, a platform; she is in the spotlight. She is making the most of this opportunity to impose a draconian sentence on Nassar.

Is anyone so horrible that they cannot still be considered part of the human race? Perhaps amenable or susceptible to making amends and reforming themselves? Nassar is clearly a pedophile. The evidence of his guilt is overwhelming. Is there treatment for such persons?

To repeat: I hate to anyone suffer, and that includes the worst of the worst, the most lowly and depraved.

 

 

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The Nassar trial was like an orchestrated Orwellian “hate,” with the judge the conductor. Public outpourings of hate seem to be common nowadays. Consider the Women’s March 2018.

I was looking at some photos shared with me by an acquaintance who attended the march on January 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. Here’s what I saw:

A woman holding a poster aloft with what appears to be a doctored close up photo of Trump. Two arrows are pointing to Trump’s mouth. Trump’s lips have been altered and colored brown, so that it appears that his mouth is an anus. On the sign, in big letters, “‘THE ONLY SHITHOLE” is written.

A woman with raised fist, a tattooed forearm, half closed eyes, and pursed lips holding a sign that reads “Kicking Ass & Taking Over the World” with a cartoon Rosie the Riveter type flexing her muscles.

A woman holding aloft a sign that reads “the EMPEROR HAS NO TAX RETURNS.” There is a cartoon drawing of a fat man’s midsection. Where his penis would be, a blank piece of paper is covering it up, with only “1040” written on it.

A young woman with a pink knit cap holding aloft a sign that reads “HELL hath No FURY LIKE SEVERAL MILLION PISSED OFF WOMEN” with the female gender symbol.

Two women sitting on a low stone wall (with another woman between them). Both have large signs on their backs. One sign reads: MY SUPER POWER IS THAT I CAN LOOK AT SOMEONE WITH GETTING A BONER.” The other sign reads “I’D CALL HIM A CUNT BUT HE LACKS BOTH DEPTH AND WARMTH.”

Two guys with broad grins standing on top of a stone wall. They are holding aloft a sign that reads “THE ONLY xxxHOLE IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.”

An elderly man with a funny hat and aviator sunglasses, holding aloft a sign reading “TRUMP: Racist. Sexist. Fascist. PSYCHO”

Most of the hate is directed at President Trump, and, by extension, to sexual predators.

Much of it seems crude and uncalled for. And, actually, disrespectful. Yes, I do think public figures deserve some kind of respect. As was true of authority figures and adults when I was growing up.

There is a swell — threatening to become a tsunami — of meanness, and a lack of a modicum of decency, in our culture nowadays, in the public square.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  January 25, 2018

 

 

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In an up email to close friends on February 28, 2018, I wrote:

I wrote on my blog last month: The Nassar trial was like an orchestrated Orwellian “hate,” with the judge the conductor. Public outpourings of hate seem to be common nowadays.

That’s what I disliked about the trial. I know Nassar was guilty of doing awful things.

To know what such a “hate” is, you have to have read “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

 

 

 

 

 

Judge Aquilina & Nassar

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina; Larry Nassar

will “ladies and gentlemen” go the way of the dodo?

 

 

 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is replacing the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” in announcements with gender-neutral words in an effort to be more inclusive.

Instead you’ll likely hear, “Good morning, everyone,” or, “Hello, passengers.”

It’s just one of the changes to the conductors’ script that started earlier this month.

… This morning you may hear the train conductor say something like: “Good morning, riders.”

 
— “New York Today: Subway Announcements Get a Human Touch,” by Jonathan Wolfe, The New York Times, November 13, 2017

 

 

 

 

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The language commissars are pernicious. Yes, pernicious. Defined as “having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way.” They are gradually eroding and stripping of its vitality our precious English tongue.

What, in God’s name, is wrong with saying “ladies and gentlemen”? It’s a polite phrase. It needs to be replaced with something “gender-neutral”? Meaning, no words or phrases that indicate gender will henceforth be permitted?

Language is a living, breathing thing. It’s organic, just like nature. Don’t let the over the top, politically correct language czars ruin it. Not only are they totally wrong in their excessive zeal and fanaticism to eradicate words in the language as it is spoken, they are ignorant, and their stupidity is dangerous.

George Orwell was prescient in inventing a language, Newspeak, in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, that would replace English, getting rid of supposedly superfluous words, so that a word such as bad would be replaced with “ungood.”

I can just see it, an announcement or sign on the subway or in a subway station: “Be careful with perambulators carrying passengers under age five to avoid the possibility of their getting caught in an escalator or being too close to the edge of a subway platform.”

I thought baby was a gender-neutral world, but perhaps it will someday be deemed politically incorrect and will have to be replaced by an alternative such as “parentally supervised minor.”

God only knows.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2017

Trump vis-à-vis Hitler

 

 

 

“Anyone who thinks Trump is Hitler never studied European history.”

comnet posted by a reader of an op ed piece, The York Times, May 9, 2017

 

 

 

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An acquaintance of mine posted a comment on Facebook last evening — following up on comments arising from a blog post of mine yesterday — saying that Donald Trump is “worse” than Hitler was. He then followed up with the comment that there are “many parallels” between Trump and Hitler.

He means it; he was not trying to be cute.

I was astonished by such a comparison having been made. After a brief check of the Times, however, I learned that others have been saying the same thing.

Another Facebook commentator, responding to the first person’s comments, wrote:

“Agree.

“And more recent history, Milošević: not only narcissism, popularism, support of white nationalists, but disturbingly parallel in terms of the belief in ridiculous conspiracy theories.

“Have you read Mein Kampf? Distorted, disordered thinking, stream of consciousness writing. If Hitler had twitter, he would tweet like this man [Trump]. And if this man could write (a book for himself rather than paying someone to write for him), his writing would likely be similar to Hitler’s.

“Except, Hitler had ‘grander’ visions … this man is indeed an idiot who has no thought beyond ‘winning’.”

 

 

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After pausing to catch my breath, I would be inclined to say:

There may well be something to these comparisons in alerting us to current political developments in the USA and Western Europe, where the politics represented by figures such as Trump and Marine Le Pen in France, both of whom only recently did not seem to be taken that seriously, are in the ascendancy.

There may be instructive parallels with 1930’s-style Fascism.

Historical analogies can be useful.

But, in the case of such claims, it is necessary to maintain a truly historical perspective; to avoid “reverse presentism,” so to speak (interpreting current developments in terms of past ones); to maintain some degree of objectivity and balance.

I believe that the left has become unhinged over the Trump candidacy and election and has lost all sense of proportion and reason.

 

 

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Donald Trump has been called “a monster” by another one of my close acquaintances.

And, God knows what else (by others).

Trump does not have an appealing personality in many respects. (I can hear Trump haters saying to me, “you just discovered that?”)

I have not studied him closely, nor would I be qualified to develop a psychological profile.

But, he appears, more often than not, to be

an egomaniac

a male chauvinist

a groper, at least – I don’t think his several accusers, who all of them tell pretty much the same story, are making it up; I don’t believe his denials

an adulterer; probably — it would appear, undoubtedly — at various times in his life — a philanderer (in which categories I would suspect that he would be found to have a lot of company if a modern day Kinsey  Report were compiled and published)

crude — at least sometimes; coarse and vulgar

given to puffery, braggadicio, and egregious self-promotion

given to distortion and playing loose with the facts when it suits his own purposes, in his public pronouncements

stiffs businessmen and women whom he or his firm has dealings with

his firm scammed students of the bogus Trump University

has to be the center of attention and has always acted as if he was God’s gift to mankind and womankind

espouses truly reprehensible policies

wants to dismantle Obama’s signature achievements

insults, trashes, or smears political rivals and those he disagrees with

can be demeaning to persons and groups who have suffered or appear disadvantaged

intellectually shallow

 

 

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Are there any pluses?

is not an intellectual or an Einstein, but seems to have a quick grasp of issues and exhibits problem solving skills

does seem to have an ability to get things done

says what’s really on his mind instead of hiding behind politico-speak

he does have business experience and savvy, and he has shown an ability to cut through red tape and deliver results

 

 

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Politicians then and now have exhibited a wide range of traits and abilities (name your own), including:

high minded

principled

moral

venal

corrupt

duplicitous

eloquent

demagogic

highly intelligent

borderline stupid

and so on

 

 

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TRUE MONSTERS

 

Stalin

Hitler

Pol Pot

Idi Amin

 

not Donald Trump

 

 

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It would take quite a lot of butchery from our new president – he would have a long way to go — to match the track records of the above named historical figures and be classed among the worst of recent history’s tyrants.

An old friend of mine, whom I like and admire, marched with her extended family in an anti-Trump protest in Washington yesterday (January 22, 2017) and proudly posted a photo on Facebook.

One of her friends posted as follows: “Give me a break, _______. Trump hasn’t done anything yet and you guys are protesting. This is ridiculous.”

Well put. (Although I do not feel that protestors do not have the right to engage in a “counter inaugural” and to demonstrate on this or other occasions.) Hitler has a track record whereby history has indicted him. Trump’s remains to be seen.

 

 

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I wonder. Is the left most incensed about Trump the “sexist pig”?

If so, I wonder why more fuss wasn’t ever made and as much outrage shown over:

JFK (had White House interns procured for him — one recently wrote a book about it that was respectfully reviewed; and, his girlfriend, the moll Judith Exner)

Ted Kennedy (Chappaquiddick)

Bill Clinton (Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, and countless others; probably Denise Rich, to whose husband Clinton issued a scandalous eleventh hour pardon; apparently forcing himself upon Juanita Broaddrick)

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     January 23, 2017; updated May 9, 2017

 

 

 

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Addendum: The following is my response to a reader of this post who criticized it.

 

__________,

Your feelings are shared by many of your and my relatives and friends and are well expressed by you.

A couple of comments by way of explanation.

I do not necessarily think Trump is great businessman, and he certainly is not a genius. I have read articles over the years critical of his business dealings and articles which point to weak links and question the financial soundness of businesses and holdings in in his corporate empire. I was trying to point out that, when assessing Trump in the round, he does appear to have business acumen and some of the mental abilities that go along with that.

As far as the implication that I am wasting my time writing about Trump goes, I think that the anti-Trump hysteria (as I view it) is symptomatic of something deeper and is an illustration of a zaniness on the left these days when it comes to things that offend them, Trump being their current bête noire. Which Lionel Shriver talks about. See:

 

 

I don’t like it when I see intolerance from either side, and when the public is in a frenzy, I find often find myself questioning it.

I could probably explain myself better if I took the time. But, one should not be faulted for writing what one honesty thinks, or for having an opinion that does not accord with others’. Nor is it a waste of time to point out what seem to be excesses by liberals.

It’s kind of like I’m being told, there is no point in even discussing Trump or any issues that might arise because of the controversy over his candidacy and election and revelations regarding him; that I am not allowed to even think or write about him, unless my view conforms and supports others’. But, for example, as was the case with my previous posts about the Billy Bush tape and the “Hamilton” cast’s remarks made to Vice President elect Pence, there were issues that arose that, aside from the news flashes, are worthy of consideration and, in my case, of reflection upon broader issues and concerns. Why should I steer away from controversial topics for fear of being disagreed with?

Many people became disillusioned with the Great Soviet Experiment, but were afraid to say anything. George Orwell saw that what was supposed to be an egalitarian, liberated society had actually become totalitarian and repressive, and wrote about it. I feel, as Lionel Shriver recently wrote, that “the left in the West [has] come to embrace restriction, censorship and the imposition of an orthodoxy at least as tyrannical as the anti-Communist, pro-Christian conformism [we] grew up with.”

Criticisms of Trump notwithstanding, it is not a waste of time to weigh in on such issues. They often arise when the person attacked is among the least popular and most reviled.

Roger W. Smith, “‘dirty’ books”

 

There was a cheap mass market paperback book on the living room bookshelf in our house in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 1950’s – I would guess it was my mother’s because she was the parent with literary tastes: a collection of short stories by Erskine Caldwell, a Southern writer who wrote about plain, simple people. He had a very simple, down to earth style.

I read one of the stories, “A Swell Looking Girl,” when I was a preadolescent. It astounded me because of its frank content, telling an unvarnished story that – while the language was not crude – seemed to have shocking implications. I did not, however, view it as a bad piece of fiction. Even at that age, I had fairly good taste.

“A Swell Looking Girl” is a very simple story about a young man in some town or other in the South who has just gotten married. He is very proud of his young bride and wants to show her off to his male neighbors. So he has her come out on the porch and then (eventually) lifts up her dress. She is nude underneath and completely exposed. The men all say “that sure is some swell looking girl” and gradually leave. That’s the whole story.

The story seemed remarkable to me at that age because of the thought of complete female nudity. It was kind of understated the way it was written, but very daring.

Another book on my parents’ bookshelf which I became aware of at a later age was James Joyce’s Ulysses. I was intrigued by it without reading it (which would have been quite difficult for me then; it still is now). I asked my mother and father about it once at the dinner table. I doubt they had read much of it, but they did explain to me the use by Joyce of stream of consciousness. This intrigued and interested me very much.

Later, when I was in high school, my church youth group, Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), had a midwinter conference at Proctor Academy in Andover, New Hampshire in which one of the workshops, which I attended, was on sexuality. In the flyer for the conference, in the place where there would be a description of the workshop, instead of a description of the workshop per se, it simply quoted the famous concluding words of Ulysses:

… I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish Wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

This caused quite a stir. Some adults were alarmed. They already thought that these LRY conferences, with adolescents staying together away from home at a conference site with little or no supervision, were a de facto invitation to licentiousness.

My reaction to the Ulysses quote in the flyer was that this was powerful writing of a high order. It did not arouse prurient feelings in me.

Another erotic book that I became slightly acquainted with at around the same time (actually a bit later) was Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I knew of the book but hadn’t read it until my senior year in high school. That year I attended an LRY conference in some town in Massachusetts and was staying over the weekend in someone’s house. There was a paperback of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in my room and, during downtime on a Sunday morning, I read some of it.

I grew to like and admire D. H. Lawrence; yet, I like several of his other novels (particularly The Rainbow and Sons and Lovers) a lot more than Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Nevertheless, when I first read it (parts of it, the “good parts”), I was favorably impressed. It was my first exposure to Lawrence. And, the sexual language and sexual descriptions were new to me. It gave me a desire for sex and got me thinking about it in more explicit terms. Yet, I knew it was not just a “dirty” book.

In my late high school years, I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn in a recently published Grove Press paperback with a bright red cover, which I found in my father’s bedroom — the obscenity ban had just been lifted by the courts. I had never heard of Miller.

At first, I noticed the sexy parts – there were lots of them. The “good parts” were explicit, more so than other naughty books that I had hitherto peeked at. Besides being erotic, they were well written, amusing, and fun.

Soon — very quickly — I got caught up in the whole book and in Miller’s narrative style and I was no longer interested in the sexy parts alone. And, I found that I enjoyed the sex scenes not only for their explicit erotic content, but also for the humor and the good, zesty writing.

Tropic of Capricorn is one of my favorite books and I think it deserves the status of an American literary classic.

While in college, I also read Miller’s Sexus and Plexus and, later, books such as Quiet Days in Clichy and The World of Sex. I enjoyed them all and came to have admiration for Miller as a writer.

My father’s book collection included Memoirs of Hecate County, a novel by the famous literary critic Edmund Wilson. The book was banned in the US until 1959. I read one graphic sex scene in my father’s copy. I didn’t like it. It was too clinical, like an automaton detached from the protagonist’s persona is engaging in sexual intercourse. I find aspects of Wilson’s personality unappealing and don’t particularly care for his writing.

Peyton Place (1956) was a book that was around in those days. It was a phenomenal best seller and was published in a paperback with a black cover that seemed to promise, here is a BAD book. We didn’t have a copy in our house, but a lot of people did. There were a few naughty scenes, but I am sure the book would seem tame now.

The Carpetbaggers (1961) was a bestseller by Harold Robbins. We didn’t have a copy at home, but several kids I knew in high school called my attention to it. I think that it was one particular scene that caused most of the excitement. A girl is at the top of the stairs in a house, naked; she spills orange soda on herself and carries on in a provocative fashion. It was titillating for an adolescent, but I had no interest in reading the book.

Harold Robbins was a trashy writer who sold out. But, in my adult years, I did read an early novel of his, A Stone for Danny Fisher (1952), written when he still had some integrity as a striving writer. I was able to purchase a rare copy. Surprisingly, it was a pretty good book, a piece of realism about a young Jewish man who struggles to make his way during the Depression.

Another book that I discovered on what used to be the erotic books table in bookstores in the sixties – when I was in my young twenties — was My Life and Loves by Frank Harris. He was a successful editor in New York who had countless sexual conquests. Recently, I saw a handsome paperback reissue of the book on one of the bargain tables at the Strand Bookstore in New York and examined the book again. The book is a frank autobiography that was privately published by the author during the 1920’s and was published thereafter by the Obelisk Press in Paris (Henry Miller’s first publisher) in 1931. It is incredibly explicit and details one sexual encounter after another, with Harris portrayed as being remarkably potent and the women portrayed as ravenous for sex.

I can’t quite account for the fact that I found it, as I did at the later date, to be boring and tedious. After a few pages, you feel compelled to put it down. It’s like the case with pornography. The detail quickly becomes repetitive and mind-numbing.

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is another book I should mention, although no one nowadays would categorize it as a “dirty” book. When I was in high school in the early 1960’s, however, things were different.

Nineteen Eighty-Four can hold its own not just as a polemic, so to speak, but also as a literary work. It took me several readings to appreciate this. After several readings, I grew to appreciate what I consider to be the brilliant satire more fully. I think that 1984 bears comparison to an even greater work, Johnathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Both works are brilliant pieces of satire.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is not pornographic. But, there are a couple of sex scenes involving the protagonist, Winston Smith, and Julia, “the girl from the fiction department.” The scene (and the line) that I remember best from reading the novel as an adolescent – it seemed to be what all my fellow teenagers noticed — was the scene when they first make love and Winston “felt at the zipper of her overalls.”

Because the book contained two sex scenes, it was banned in our high school (Canton High School in Canton, Massachusetts). I did read it, however, as part of Dr. Erwin Gaines’s reading group. Dr. Gaines was a high ranking librarian in Boston who had instituted an extra-curricular reading group for high school students. We would meet at his home every two weeks or so during the school year to discuss books; it was very enjoyable and stimulating. I am glad that I got to read Nineteen Eighty-Four then and didn’t have to wait until later.

 

— Roger W. Smith

      July 2016