I decided, for all you hardcore literary maniacs out there, to compile a list of books that just might change your life. Naturally, this is all taken from my personal experience and some of my suggestions might seem a little cliché. Even so, I will do my best to surprise you with some of my selections. As this is quite a subjective exercise I will always provide reasons for why I believe the books hold the potential to actually change the fundamental perspective of its reader.
I apologise in advance for any vagueness or ambiguity while writing this. Sometimes a personal revelation or a “tiny enlightenment” (what I like to call it) can be hard to capture in words, at least for me it can. Just try and stay with me and somehow we’ll get through this together. As always feel free to comment, ask questions and even recommend titles!
I will go from my least favourite of the five to my favourite (number 1 in the list). This is just in order of my personal preference and how much I enjoyed reading the book.
Number 5 – 1984 by George Orwell
The most striking thing about 1984 is how Orwell immediately transports the reader into another world – a world which has a frighteningly real possibility of existence.
We are first introduced to Winston Smith in a hallway filled with the distinctive aroma of “boiled cabbage” and “old rag mats”, while the cold wind outside blows grit and dust into the eyes of pedestrians. This bleak, gray Britain is the home of Winston. From the outset, this colourless existence is what absorbs the reader. We begin to see life through Winston’s eyes. Existence is thoroughly scrubbed clean of humour, happiness and beauty with the hard bristles of The English Socialist Party, or INGSOC in “NEWSPEAK” (a created language devised by the government to limit thought through the boundaries of speech). Instead, we are left with a cruel totalitarian brutality.
Orwell succeeds in creating this vividly empty, ugly and lifeless society. His manufactured world invades your senses as you make your way through the book. In the beginning you’re overcome with the total lack of hope apparent in everything. Winston himself seems to reflect all that is wrong with his environment. He is thirty nine and already physically ill, unable to walk flights of stairs without stopping for a rest. His sickly complexion is the manifestation of a diet lacking much in the form of nutrition.
Winston, when we enter his life, is on the verge of committing a serious crime. He is about to begin a handwritten diary. Our protagonist is certain that this crime, punishable by death, will be eventually detected by the Thought Police. This determination to be disobedient indicates Winston is a man with nothing left to live for. His last act is for his soul, to cultivate something beautiful within himself and allow it to have a physical expression. He lusts after creativity and, ultimately, he sees it as something worth dying for.
I found this thrilling, because, for a good portion of the novel, I believed this was all about the indomitable will of the human spirit. No matter how we are stifled, humanity will always seek freedom. A comforting thought considering how Britain is rapidly transforming into a centralised totalitarian state.
What truly caused a profound revelation for me was realising, at the end of the novel, 1984 is not about the unconquerable human spirit, or humanities capacity to overcome suppression. Rather, it’s about the exact opposite. Orwell opened my eyes to exactly how important it is for society never to allow the kind of totalitarianism described in 1984. He did this by showing how easily people can be fooled into submission. In the end Winston is completely destroyed. His mind, body and soul are consumed by Big Brother in room 101. He comes to love his oppressive government like a child loves her parents. Not because he sees the light, but because he is crushed and pushed so far even the freedom of his thoughts are taken from him.
This changed me on so many levels. This book delves into the nature and psychology of humanity. It taught me that we all have a duty towards society. It makes me wonder if Mikhail Bakunin was right in saying “freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice, and socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality”.