In high school, none of my English classes required me to read 1984. We did read Animal Farm my senior year and I secretly loved it, but never once did I consider picking up anything that wasn’t assigned unless it was about rock n’ roll or some Star Was adventure. The truth of the matter was that I loved English class, but the thought to read this stuff outside of class never once crossed my mind. And I made it all the way to the end of my undergraduate degree before this changed.
I think it was my birthday, and my younger sister gave me a brand new copy of 1984 by George Orwell. She told me I’d love it. I didn’t believe her. (But I never told her that). To be honest, despite my love for Animal Farm, at the time I didn’t have time to read it. (I was finishing up my music degree and practicing 5 to 6 hours a day on top of class work). But once I graduated and was looking for someplace to give me money for doing things, I picked the book up, and that’s when everything changed. There were no tests, no time in which to have it finished. It was just me and the most brilliant book ever written. My sister was right; I did love it. To this day, it is the only book I’ve read more than 3 times!
This was far better than those Star Wars adventures; this had real, believable characters, a bizarre oppressive government, and a perfectly pitched prose style. It was everything I loved about science fiction and everything I loved about English class all in one place.
So because of the power of Orwell, I began to read—really read, everything I could. From there I read Dune, Frankenstein, The Martian Chronicles, Dracula, and Of Mice and Men, to name a few.
So 1984 was more than just a great book to me; it was my gateway drug. It’s the reason I write and teach writing today. It’s the reason I went back to school for a Master’s Degree in English. And for me, it’s the ultimate template for what great writing should be.