Penguin Books has decided to dub January 21st “Orwell Day” in commemoration of George Orwell’s death in 1950. I remember reading “Animal Farm” for the first time in the 7th grade — long before I was old enough to really appreciate it and years before I realized I had a special liking for dystopian fiction.
“Animal Farm” didn’t impress me too much at such a young age. I had a reading teacher who had a penchant for pushing important but age-inappropriate literature on her students. (She taught Elie Wiesel’s “Night” that year and gave me “The Hot Zone” to read in my spare time.) But it was the first time I was exposed to that kind of controversial literature, and honestly, I’m grateful to her for knowing I was ready to read it.
When I was in high school, I began to get a bit of a thrill from reading all kinds of books that had been banned from school libraries and even got our librarian to stock a copy of “A Clockwork Orange” off the books. Here are four dystopian novels I first read in those formative years that I believe are worth reading again and again.
Orwell’s classic makes it onto every list I’ve ever seen on great dystopian novels. Although it was not required reading for any of my classes high school literature classes, I read it on my own. Even at a young age, I knew it was an important book. (And, truth be told, I was quite amused that we were already well past the year 1984.)
Brave New World
I do actually remember reading this in high school — it was one of the few books I think my classmates actually read in its entirety. I don’t know if that was because it was not on SparkNotes or if they just found it as entertaining as I did. Either way, it’s a timeless novel that should be enjoyed at least once every few years.
The Handmaid’s Tale
I first read “The Handmaid’s Tale” when I was in college, and I remember feeling that the novel had some eerie resonance for me. I couldn’t put it down, and Margaret Atwood has become a hero of mine.
My mom first got me to read Ray Bradbury’s classic when I was in junior high. She and I shared a great love of books and a bit of an appetite for rebellion. She was a teacher, and “F451” was on the reading list of somewhat controversial books she taught the advanced readers in her class — much to the administration’s dismay. I also think this book first sparked my natural journalistic indignation with censorship in all forms.