Orwell's 1984 a bestseller in wake of anxiety under Trump

George Orwell's 1984 novel about a dystopian future under an authoritarian regime is back as a bestseller as readers grapple with Donald Trump administration's defense of "alternative facts". VIDEO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • Mr Donald Trump may not be a big reader, but the United States President has been a boon for sales of dystopian literature.

Amid people's thirst for adult colouring books and stories about missing girls and reincarnated puppies, some grim old classics are speaking to readers with new urgency.

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale have risen up the latest paperback bestseller list.

But by far the greatest beneficiary of the newly piqued national anxiety is the George Orwell classic 1984.

The book, about a dystopian future where critical thought is suppressed under a totalitarian regime, saw a surge in sales this month, rising to the top of the Amazon bestseller list in the US and leading its publisher to have tens of thousands of new copies printed.

Mr Craig Burke, publicity director at Penguin USA, said the publisher had ordered 75,000 new copies of the book this week and that it was considering another reprint.


He said the rise "started over the weekend and hit hyperactive" on Tuesday and Wednesday morning. Since last Friday, the book has reached a 9,500 per cent increase in sales, he said.

He said demand began to lift on Sunday, shortly after the interview that Ms Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to Mr Donald Trump, gave on NBC's Meet The Press.

In defending a false claim by the White House press secretary, Mr Sean Spicer, that Mr Trump had attracted the "largest audience ever to witness an inauguration", Ms Conway used a turn of phrase that struck some observers as similar to the dystopian world of 1984.

Asked why Mr Spicer had said something that was demonstrably false, Ms Conway replied: "Don't be so dramatic." Mr Spicer, she said, "gave alternative facts".

In the novel, the term "newspeak" refers to language in which independent thought, or "unorthodox" political ideas, have been eliminated.

"Doublethink" is defined as "reality control". On social media and elsewhere on Sunday, the book's readers made a connection between Ms Conway's comments and Orwell's language, and the attention on the book "kind of took a life of its own", Mr Burke said.

Dictionary publisher Merriam- Webster described the interview as "fraught with epistemological tension".

The dictionary also reported that searches for the word "fact" spiked after Ms Conway's comments and then, as an apparent reminder, tweeted the dictionary's definition.

Even outside the US, interest in 1984 has grown.

So far this year, sales have risen by 20 per cent in Britain and Australia compared to the same period a year ago, according to Ms Jess Harrison, a London-based editor at Penguin Books. The novel is usually a bestseller, she said.

It sold 100,000 copies last year in English-speaking countries outside the US and Canada.

"But we've definitely seen an uptick" in sales, she added.

Dystopian novels are "chiming with people", she said, adding that The Man In The High Castle by Philip K. Dick, an alternative history in which the Nazis defeated America to win World War II, is also selling well.

A TV series based on Dick's novel is now in its second season on Amazon.

Penguin also published Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, about the rise of a demagogue, last Friday in Britain for the first time since 1935, "and we're already on to our third printing".

On Wednesday, that book also ranked among Amazon's bestsellers.

Dr Stefan Collini, a professor of intellectual history and an expert on Orwell at the University of Cambridge, said readers see a natural parallel between the book and the way that Mr Trump and his staff have "distorted facts".

"Everyone remembers 1984 as containing various parodies of official distortions," he said. "That kind of unreality that is propagated as reality is what people feel reminded of and that's why they keep coming back."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'Orwell's 1984 a bestseller in wake of anxiety under Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe