Orwell in Bed

I read Animal Farm as a kid, maybe third grade or so. It was on the bookshelf by my bed. I remember slipping the slim, green volume in and out surreptitiously to read with a flashlight in bed. Mom didn’t know I was reading this book without pictures in which pigs talked, which definitely made it more attractive. I’m not sure if mom would have censored the book from me if she had known.

Mom would have arranged the shelves in the bookcase to look nice, not as some kind of plot to expand my mind. Besides being fiercely intelligent, she liked things to look nice, not like those ratty looking children’s books with the torn covers that she sent to the Goodwill as soon as I learned to read. In fact, she trashed the book jackets on all books. Messy looking. I’m not sure it even occurred to her that I might be reading those Book-of-the-Month Club selections carefully aligned by height and color. That I didn’t truly understand the meaning of Animal Farm, the story within the story, didn’t matter. I liked the book and the words weren’t too hard.

This narrow bookcase sits in my office today; it holds a disorderly mishmash of my ragged old journals. I’ve kept it around, just like my love of reading in bed after the lights go down. This habit has been greatly enhanced by being able to read from my back lit little ITouch. The words are newspaper column-width and just as exciting or disappointing as they would be on the page. Yes, I still like books with covers, but under the covers, I love my ITouch enabling me to read in the dark.

Surreptitiously? Not so much.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is my latest read. It is a rich book set in Ethiopia in which some of the descriptions are so graphic that the words on the screen seem to bleed (the main characters are surgeons). In fact, I’ve had to self-censor a few passages. Though, like Animal Farm, the book doesn’t contain pictures, some of the images are powerful and fully capable of causing nightmares. Humble compliments to the author.

This book was recommended to me by my friends at Amazon who know I like books set in foreign places. You think elephants have a memory? Amazon never forgets. They know every item I have looked at from school bus tents for Thomas to books on stalking/window peepers (eight years ago I ordered a paperback on this topic to help understand the mentality of these people, it’s a long story), to those little ankle high boots I thought I couldn’t get through the winter without and which now follow me onto every single site I visit on the internet, scrolling across the top, flashing at the side. Amazon remembers such things. Forever, it seems. And sometimes they are spot on. I like this book, in fact.

In Cutting for Stone I found this little story within the story that I liked. The story was about a miserly Baghdad merchant who had a battered pair of slippers everyone teased him about. He finally decided to get rid of them, threw them out a window, they landed on the head of a pregnant woman, she miscarried, and he went to jail. The second attempt to get rid of the slippers he dropped them into a canal, they choked up the drain, and again off to jail. A listener to the story observes, “He might as well build a room for his slippers. Why try to lose them? He will never escape.” All kinds of cool inferences can be drawn from this little story, an imbedded mini lesson. Everything in your experience (the slippers) becomes part of who you are. The author sums it up saying, “the key to happiness is to own your slippers.” Love it.

Loved it so much I tapped the passage with my finger and up jumped a little window on my ITouch that said, “1247 people also liked this passage.”

How Orwellian is that?

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