Alberta Politics
English author George Orwell in 1940 (Photo: BBC).

The clocks are striking thirteen and there’s something in the air – Albertans seem to be reading George Orwell’s 1984 again

Posted on May 29, 2021, 1:48 am
4 mins

Here are the lists of the top 10 fiction and non-fiction titles sold by independent booksellers in Alberta during the week ended Sunday, May 23, 2021.

The lists are compiled by the Book Publishers Association of Alberta, and include sales at Audreys Books and Glass Bookshop in Edmonton.

As I’ve said in this space before, there’s something refreshing about a bestseller list based on sales at independent bookstores – you don’t necessarily get the same horrible corporate offerings that are being pushed by all the big bestseller lists. 

Sometimes there are surprises. This week, for example, George Orwell’s 1984 tops the fiction bestseller list. Does this means Albertans are worrying about the state of our freedoms in these interesting times? Or is it just a case of someone teaching a summer course on post-war English literature. Probably too soon to tell. Anyway, it’s never too late to read Orwell – born in 1903, known to friends and family as Eric. He was dead by 1950, too early to see the excesses of neoliberalism. A veteran of the Spanish Civil War, he was a writer who was actually concerned about what words mean. It would be interesting to have him around to see what he thinks about our era of panopticon privatization. 

ALBERTA FICTION BESTSELLERS

1. 1984 – George Orwell (Penguin)
2. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel (Harper Perennial)
3. Moon of the Crusted Snow – Waubgeshig Rice (ECW Press)
4. Binti: The Complete Trilogy – Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
5. Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward (Scribner)
6. A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway (Harper Perennial)
7. Lightfinder – Aaron Paquette (Kegedonce Press) *
8. Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf Canada)
9. The Rose Code – Kate Quinn (William Morrow)
10. The Midnight Library – Matt Haig (HarperCollins)

ALBERTA NON-FICTION BESTSELLERS

1. The Anthropocene Reviewed – John Green (Dutton)
2. What Happened to You? – Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry (Flatiron Books)
3. From the Ashes – Jesse Thistle (Simon & Schuster)
4. The Pemmican Eaters – Marilyn Dumont (ECW Press) *
5. The Menopause Manifesto – Dr. Jen Gunter (Random House Canada)
6. NISHGA – Jordan Abel (McClelland & Stewart) *
7. Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer (Milkweed Editions)
8. Hold on to Your Kids – Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté (Vintage Canada)
9. The Better Brain – Bonnie J. Kaplan and Julia J. Rucklidge (HMH Books) *
10. The Bomber Mafia – Malcolm Gladwell (Little Brown & Company)

* Alberta Author + Alberta Publisher

I’m embarrassed to admit that I somehow missed publishing this list last week. Lots was happening, and I just forgot. Sorry about that! The bestselling work of fiction for the week ended May 16 was Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro, a repeat visit from the week before. The bestselling non-fiction title was Creeland, by Dallas Hunt. DJC

The independent bookstores contributing to this weekly list are:

Audreys Books, Edmonton
Cafe Books, Canmore
Drawn to Books, Edmonton
Glass Bookshop, Edmonton
Monkeyshines Books, Calgary
Owl’s Nest Books, Calgary
Pages on Kensington, Calgary
Shelf Life Books, Calgary
The Next Page, Calgary
Three Hills Books, Three Hills

7 Comments to: The clocks are striking thirteen and there’s something in the air – Albertans seem to be reading George Orwell’s 1984 again

  1. Scotty on Denman

    May 29th, 2021

    The last time George Orwell’s 1949 book “1984” was so popular —until now—was in 1984. When Orwell wrote it, the world was just recovering from WW II and getting used to the new “Cold War.” The Communists had taken over China, and Joey Smallwood forced Newfoundlanders to confederate with Canada. Worry was all about totalitarianism.

    Thirty-five years later, in the real 1984, China was still a mostly rural country of nearly a billion people. It’d had its butt whipped by little Vietnam but had entered into negotiations with UK about taking over the British Colony of Hong Kong. Orwell’s thinly veiled send-up of the Soviet Union seemed not to have been realized by now: Konstantin Chernenko had displaced Yuri Andropov as General Secretary of the Communist Party, but soon a new man with what looked like a little tattoo of Italy on his forehead attempted to open up the totalitarian state (little did Gorbachev know then, the USSR would disintegrate in less than a decade hence). In fact, the Soviets looked so benign in 1984 that President Ronald Reagan could get away with joking that, “ we begin bombing in five minutes,” during his weekly National Public Radio broadcast.

    It just didn’t seem like totalitarianism was a big worry in 1984. I mean, “War is Peace” might’ve still had a ring to it, but in the real 1984, Reverend Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Prize for the latter. So was there anything more than the name “1984” that made Orwell’s book a must read in its eponymous year?

    Well, mind-control being a big part of the book, perhaps the new motion picture rating PG-13 might have been a trigger. Or the rapid popularity of brain-sucking personal computers, maybe? Certainly there were a lot of space shuttles happening, some with top secret payloads—spy satellites, presumably. Soviet Gospadina and cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to take a space-walk (countering that for the hearts and minds of freedom-loving Americans, US astronauts did their walks untethered). It seemed surveillance was ongoing but of little general concern. The Soviet’s best shot was to boycott the Olympics.

    In 1984, most people had other things to worry about than Big Brother. But what makes “1984” a best-seller now, in 2021? In the real 1984 there were mass shootings: reminiscent of Trump’s 2021 Capitol Riot in Washington DC, a disgruntled corporal attacked the National Assembly in Quebec and stationed himself in the Speaker’s chair after shooting three people to death; in the same year, a California shooter killed 20 at a Macdonald’s restaurant; Bernard Goetz shot four young Black men on a NY-city express train (he said they were going to mug him). Do readers make some connection between now and 37 years ago? Is it that there are many more mass shootings in the USA today than back then? Was there something connecting 1949, “1984,” 1984, and 2021 to make gun violence relevant today?

    1984 was a big year for attempted and successful assassinations: the IRA tried but failed to blow up Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at a Brighton Hotel (five were killed and 31 wounded), Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams also survived an attempt on his life, was wounded but survived, and Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards (perhaps having something to do with her government’s attack on Sikhdom’s holiest temple in Amritsar just a few months earlier). Yet there seems little connection today with either the book or the year 1984 in this respect—unless people are worried that current bellicosity in social intercourse might turn to violence instead of bluster.

    Today the big thing is Covid. I haven’t read “1984” in a long while (but I still have my Ma’s little paperback, priced 10¢—the one with the Anti-sex League’s sultry babe casting a glance over her shoulder at the protagonist on the cover) but the closest connection I can make is that, in the year 1984, the AIDS virus was identified and, for a while, it caused a general panic which inspired some pretty crazy conspiracy theories —and even some Christian activism which figures in premier Kenney’s student life (he worked at an AIDS hospice where he refused to let same-gender partners visit their dying loved ones because, in the days K-Boy tried to conserve as a federal MP, same-gender marriage wasn’t yet legal—and the rule was only legal spouses and family were allowed to visit). And one wonders what could possibly be crazier than Q-Anon and “Plandemics” today—except, perhaps, the 1984 charging of teachers at a California pre-school who were accused of Satanic ritual abuse of children (charges were dropped when zero evidence was found).

    Yeah, I can see how adding the basement of a pizza parlour, a worldwide cabal of pedophiles, and a former FLOTUS, Senator, Secretary of State, and 2016 presidential candidate to that 1984 narrative sort of connects—except today, Q-Anon is getting bigger—maybe even bigger than Big Brother of “1984” infamy. Yeah, I can kinda see that as inviting a re-read of the Orwellian classic…

    …while listening to Van Halen’s classic album “1984”…

    PS: it’s nice to see Emily St John-Mandel in second place to the late, great Orwell: she was raised here on our little Island and we’re so proud of her.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      May 29th, 2021

      I have been in the same room as Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, although I didn’t have the opportunity to speak with him. He was not that little. The birthmark on his forehead looked like a map of Vietnam, not Italy. DJC

      Reply
      • Pogo

        May 29th, 2021

        And you wonder why a schmuck like me hangs around? Keep this up and I might learn something!

        Reply
  2. Dfjo

    May 29th, 2021

    After having read about George Orwell’s history ,and the part about him facing a showtrial, despite having been seriously wounded;
    Who would have passed judgement at his show trial?

    Reply
  3. Just Me

    May 30th, 2021

    Having read and revisited “1984” on numerous occasions, I am left with only one conclusion: we tend to execute the wrong people. Try and send a few politicians to the gallows — no appeals allowed. Public executions, of course. I mean why deny these grifters and exhibitionists their final and best public performances?

    Reply
    • P Wilson

      May 30th, 2021

      Politicians and CEO’s!
      After reading about Orwell’s experiences as a “plongeur” in a pash Parisian hotel in “Down and Out in London and Paris”, I became leery of all restaurant food and learned to cook…Orwell has saved me lots over the years and possibly from coronary heart disease.

      Reply
  4. Bret larson

    May 30th, 2021

    Ok, I’ll bite. Eric Blair is one of my favourite authors. 1984 is ok, and homage to Catalonia is is a good book to see what happens to socialists when they have morals, but Burmese days is the best of his to investigate the human condition.

    Reply

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