Big Brother and the White Whale

This installment of the Blue Bookcase’s Literary Blog Hop asks which book you must read before you die.

The one book that I think all of humanity should be required to read is George Orwell’s 1984.  Like all great classics, this one only gets more relevant as time goes by.  Orwell’s nightmarish insight into the power dynamics of society have been realized again and again in various forms ever since this novel’s publication.  Also, his ideas about the relationship between language and thought, while scientifically dubious, are still pointedly relevant in any society where official jargon and propaganda hijack and twist the meanings of language into barely recognizable forms.

Coming in as a close second is Melville’s Moby Dick.  Take all of the grand themes of life – life, death, God, friendship – and crunch them into the microcosm of a whaling ship captained by a deranged peg-legged megalomaniac.  Good times.

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32 comments

  1. Interesting choices. While I have not read Moby Dick (and don’t intend to, sorry!), 1984 I think I read. Yes, it would have been around 1989 and I just can’t be sure now. I do think it would be a good idea to read it again.

  2. I have a love/ hate relationship with 1984, although I do believe It’s in peoples interest to read it as you say because of the way society uses propaganda as a tool to promote its end goal. An interesting book on thought & language is a book by Level Vygotsky called Thought & Language ( I think) Not sure yet where my choice is going concerning the question.

  3. Read 1984, but Moby Dick is still lacking to my culture. Orwell is intimidating before you open the book, but it’s better once you start reading. Highly conceptual yes, but the language is accessible.

  4. As I just mentioned in someone else’s blog, I’m really looking forward to reading 1984 some time soon. However, I doubt I’ll ever get around to reading Moby Dick. I intend giving it a try…but I’m guessing it would be amazing if I ever finished it!

  5. I might have read 1984 in 1984 and I think I was too young to appreciate it (but I was ambitious!) I probably should read it again.

    I found you on The Literary Blog Hop.

  6. @leswamme – it’s about time I read 1984 again as well – it’s probably been about three years for me.
    @parrish – I understand the love, but why the hate with 1984? I’ll look for Thought and Language. Another great book I’m reading now about the subject is Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct. Great book, you’d probably really like it.
    @bookbelle – Definitely give Moby Dick a try. It can be a trying experience, but I think that it’s well worth the effort.
    @benoit – I’d actually argue that 1984 isn’t really that intimidating at all. It’s relatively short and the subject matter, while bleak, is incredibly accessible. I agree with you that it is rather conceptual. What do you mean about Moby Dick and your culture?
    @dragonfly – Certainly read Moby Dick. It’s well worth the effort!
    @gautami – thanks for coming by and glad you liked both books!
    @laura – Moby Dick intimidated me before I actually sunk my teeth into it. It’s that kind of book – there’s such a hype swirling around it that people tend to approach it with trepidation. But, once you get going, you find that it’s reputation as The Great American Novel is well deserved.
    @risa – you might be surprised about Moby Dick. Give it a try, get through 100 pages and see if you still want to put it down. I know that I couldn’t.
    @lulu – Read 1984!!! It’s pretty easy – it’s not a long book and the language is very accessible. You’ll like it, I’m sure.
    @suzanne – I think 1984 is a book that stands up well to multiple readings. You should definitely give it another read.

    1. The hate is my experience of being force fed this book at school by a teacher whose enthusiasm for the subject, was somewhere below that of rigor mortis

  7. I totally agree on Moby Dick-majestic language and as deep as it gets-as to 1984-I almost prefer Animal Farm over it-Animal Farm is to me fit to set next to the works of Voltaire, Johnson and Swift

    1. You’re totally right about Animal Farm, but I still see 1984 as being more prescient and perhaps more relevant to humanity as a whole. Animal Farm was a powerful allegory, no doubt, but I still felt 1984 has more power. We can fully agree on Moby Dick. It’s high time I picked it up for a reread.

  8. Both of your choices are among my favorites although I would be more likely to recommend the wealth of reading riches found in Moby-Dick as the one literary work to read before you die. In fact I’ll add it to my list of books that I should reread before I die.

    1. It was a tough choice. I suppose why I ended up putting 1984 on top was the raw, visceral impact that it had on me. There is more going on in Moby Dick but that also causes it to lose focus at points. 1984 is like a laser. Still, it’s a coin toss really. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. If you forced me to, I’d put Moby Dick over 1984. In my answer, I hedged and said it’s just too hard to say what everyone would feel is the book they should read. I do love Moby Dick, though.

  10. I have 1984 on my TBR list. I meant to read it right after I finished Brave New World last year, but was to depressed to continue on with my dystopian kick.

    1. Moby Dick seems to be one of those books that people always mean to read, always read a bit of in high school, but never get around to making the actual plunge. It looms so large in American culture that I think most people just figure they know the story, so why read. But, it’s such a good book that it’s a shame some people miss out.

  11. @monica – that’s too bad about Moby Dick. You’re missing out on an epic read! Thanks for coming by!
    @robyn – Moby Dick could just have easily come out on top. It was a close finish, both books are wonderful.
    @sharon – Melville does get a bit carried away with the whole whaling thing at times. I’d like to think he was trying to make the novel like a whaling cruise itself – moments of adventure interspersed with tedium. Thanks for coming by and following!
    @Sarah – do pick up 1984 as soon as you have a chance. I preferred it to Brave New World.
    @kinna – Moby Dick is a very intimidating book, and for good reason. Still, it’s well worth the effort!
    @jillian – it’s an intimidating book. But you should read it anyway.
    Connie – ditto about the intimidation. Thanks for coming by!

  12. Love that we both picked 1984! Such an important book and in my opinion just a great read in general as well. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again: one of the scariest books I’ve ever read.

  13. Great choices, Pete. I haven’t read 1984 in years, but it’s definitely essential. I re-read Moby Dick earlier this year. As an allegory, one of the best ever written, but I could do without the interminable classification of whales.

  14. @llevinso – I couldn’t agree with you more. 1984 is probably one of the scariest books ever written just because so much of what it says is thoroughly plausible. Thanks for coming by!
    @Patrick – Melville went a bit overboard, I think, with all the whaling mumbo-jumbo. Still, despite all that, it is everything a book should be. Thanks for reading!

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