Pigs

All animals are equal,

but some animals are more equal than others.

-George Orwell

I have owned George Orwell’s Animal Farm for years and despite my interest in Marxism and all that ‘fight the power’ stuff in my teens, I never got round to reading it. Well I am glad I now have.

The book seems timeless to me, perhaps even more relevant today than it was nearly seventy years ago when it was first published. It very simply and concisely draws up an image of the way society functions; how the majority of people have the minority share of wealth whilst a small, elite and powerful few enjoy all the riches. You don’t need an active interest in political philosophy to see this in action. You can even take the average workplace and find startling similarities between its operation and that of Animal Farm.

Say your workplace is the farm, and you are one of the animals working on it. In the book the animals are working far more than the owners of the farm, however it seems that the owners are getting a much larger share of the produce. The animals get given just enough food and comfort to come back and do more work tomorrow. In the same way you earn just enough to pay for some food, your house and some small pleasures. However, what you earn is not proportional to the work you have put in. For example, let’s say you are earning what is the minimum wage in the UK, £6.08 per hour and you earn this for shovelling popcorn into a box and charging around £5 for it. If you worked for four hours it works out that to pay for your own wage you would have to shovel around 1.22 boxes of this popcorn per hour. It turns out however that you shovel, on average, a minimum of 25 boxes of this popcorn in an hour. This means that you have sold £500 worth of popcorn in four hours, yet you will make £24.32 for doing so. How nice of the farmer to give you some slops at the end of the day!

“It’s an outrage!” you might say, and rightly so. But before you start your grand revolution I must tell you that, as the book demonstrates, this system is inescapable. Most people would probably agree that this system is unfair. The animals in Animal Farm all meet and talk about how unfair it is and how something should be done about it. I am sure you have done the same. I am sure you have stood around, grumbling at having to shovel that popcorn all day in unsatisfactory circumstances, while a few people get to sit up in their ivory tower and tell you what to do. I’m sure that like the horses, sheep, chickens and geese of the book put their faith in the pigs, you have put faith in certain people. Just like the pigs, I am sure they have spoken of change, of justice and fairness. Just like the pigs I am sure they were given some power and it seemed like there was hope after all, that change was to come.

The sad fact is, you give the pigs some power and they start to abuse it. The pigs start to think they are better than everybody else. The pigs start to give themselves more privileges. The pigs lie to the people they left behind and manipulate them into thinking that everything is done for their benefit. Gradually the pigs deny ever saying anything about unfairness and injustice. The pigs had never said anything about better pay, longer breaks and more reasonable working hours. What you have is already more than enough! The pigs surround themselves with idiotic but loyal dogs in order to create a stronger group. Eventually the pigs are hardly what they used to be at all, they have so willingly become like the farmers they had despised, that as it says in the book, “it was impossible to say which is which”.

You see, sadly, things will never change. The mare will always continue to pull the cart as long as you give her some sugar lumps and pretty ribbons for her mane. The pig, once put in a shirt, will begin to act the part of the oppressor. But, although things will never change, I still like to try and fight this system in my own little ways, and you should too, just to say:

Oink, oink! We see you little piggies, and we know what you are up to!

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Little Women

Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.

-Robert Louis Stevenson

At this point of my life I find myself unemployed. I am not enduring any sort of hardship, only struggling in that way that most do at some point; wondering what their life will be and whether they will achieve all they hope.

Despite my current state of employment I find myself one month into my self-administered reading task and only three books have been read so far. This is only a third of what I should have read in this time if I am to achieve my goal. However I will not be disheartened by falling behind.

Thankfully my voracity for books has returned, in the last few days particularly, when I picked up Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. For a long time this story has been close to my heart, having loved the film since quite a young age. I attempted to read the book when I was thirteen, fancying myself as some sort of romantic, taking the book to school with a sprig of lavender as a bookmark! I left the book in the drama classroom and when I returned to find it a day later the teacher said she hadn’t seen it and didn’t seem to show any concern in helping me to find it. I went to the school library to sulk and comfort myself at the shelves. Starting in the “A” section I noticed pretty quickly Alcott’s book sitting there. I pulled it down and inspecting the cover I found all the familiar creases in the usual places: this was my book! I opened its covers and found, to my horror, the school’s stamp on the first page, and flicked through to find several more throughout the book. My heart broke at the sight.

The library had stolen a book from me.

I didn’t take the book back as my own, and definitely didn’t dare an attempt at reasoning with the stern librarian who seemed to have love for neither children nor books, only order and silence. So, I left the library feeling betrayed but with a lesson learned in minding your belongings.

Over ten years later I returned to the book. I don’t think I knew why I enjoyed the story so much as a child, but as an adult I feel I have taken so much from it. It is the story of four young sisters who are becoming old enough to understand some of the hardships of life. They have grand dreams of gaining wealth and becoming great artists and writers in later life. The book follows their growing up and their struggle as they learn about what in life has real value; family, health, virtue and love.

Like the girls in the book I am trying to be the best person I can be. I want to be a good person and I want to make the most of what I have in life. There is no problem in having dreams and wanting for things, but you can only truly appreciate gaining these things once you have made the most out of what you already have. I have my health. I have loving and supportive parents, friends who will always help out (even if it is just to provide laughs) and the most wonderful boyfriend in whom I have found a partner to laugh and cry and brave the big, frightening world. On top of these things I have a mighty pile of books to keep me entertained, informed and inspired.

So, although I have no job, and I do wonder what my life will be and whether I will achieve my dreams, I know that already I have quite a lot. Little Women has helped me to appreciate these things, and just hoping that the little copy in my old school library has helped just one person learn what I have learned makes me glad I lost it all it all those years ago.

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Outside of a Dog

Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

-Groucho Marx

Throughout my life books have always served as my friends and mentors. When I was very young it was Enid Blyton who first truly invited me into her world. I would visit the Faraway Tree and its inhabitants would be as familiar as the next door neighbour. This was the first real taste of escapism, of reading yourself into a whole new world of possibilities.

At the age of nine I was introduced to a new writer: Roald Dahl. Children with names like infections, adults who are cruel and foolish, magic set in the grim real world; it was all a long, long way from the middle class politeness of Enid Blyton! Roald Dahl taught me to think. His books taught me that life isn’t always pretty, that it is unfair, that some children have everything handed to them where others have nothing. But most of all, his books taught me a very exciting secret: adults are not always right.

From Dahl I would like to say that I was enlightened and grew to be a well-read teen. But that would be a lie. I read a lot, but I read the usual slurry of hormonal teen nonsense that bookshops stock in their “young adult” sections. Anything where a girl becomes a witch, a boy becomes a vampire or some teens fall in love in rural Spain and I would eagerly hand over five of my parents’ hard earned pounds to have it.

I spent a few years sliding down this sludgy pile until I slammed into a wall which startled me to my core. The wall was a book that a teacher had placed into my fifteen year-old hands; The Catcher in the Rye. I’d heard of the book but knew nothing about it. I read it. Being honest, I had no clue what I had read. I didn’t know what it meant. Somewhere though, deep inside, it had spoken to the tight little knot of teenage angst and confusion and fear. This book spoke the same language as the knot and they made a bond.

After reading this book I realised that reading was not just entertainment, there were books out there that could make you feel. There were books that say something.

I was thrilled by books now. I was excited at what else the literary world had to offer. I enjoyed a variety of novels including The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Great Gatsby, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, To Kill a Mockingbird and Nineteen Eighty-Four and understood why these books have such respect. At seventeen I read A Clockwork Orange and was taken aback by not only the great moral questions of the book, but how wonderful and versatile language is as a tool.

I grew to understand what a powerful tool the written word is, and how magical it is that through this medium the thoughts and ideas of the greatest minds can be shared with many people, generation after generation.

That brings my reading history up to this day. It saddens me that over the past year or so, for a variety of reasons, I have neglected that dear friend and hardly read at all. Through the years I have gathered books faster than I can read them, and today I have one-hundred books in my collection that I have not read. I want to rekindle that passion for regularly reading, burning my way through book after book, and so I plan to read all of these books and give myself a year to do it.

I never thought I’d be writing a blog, but I wanted to chronicle the reading of these books and a blog just seems to be the best way of doing it. Plus, isn’t that what us young people are meant to do? All that Myface, Twotting et cetera? There is no significance to starting this today, it just seems right. I could say that I am starting this today as it is Easter Sunday, and Easter is symbolic of rebirth, resurrection and fresh starts. But I’m not Jesus. I’m just writing a blog.

I am going to begin with Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons.

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