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George Orwell’s Best Work: Homage to Catalonia

24 Apr

Every year, thousands of high school students across the U.S. read Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell. Orwell’s ideas about revolution, authoritarianism, and surveillance stand the test of time because they were accurate in predicting many of the absurdities of the modern world. I still have a soft spot for these two classics, but without question my favorite book by Orwell is Homage to Catalonia, his non-fiction account of his time fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

As a young man, Orwell left England to fight for the Spanish Republic against the army of the dictator Francisco Franco. He was not alone as a foreigner in Spain, as thousands of other idealistic young men from across Europe and North America went to participate in the fight against fascism and take part in the working class uprising in the streets of Barcelona where anarchists and militant trade unions had taken over the factories and restaurants in the hopes of creating a revolutionary society.

Homage to Catalonia can be broken down into four sections. The first is Orwell’s experiences on the Spanish front, spending months sleeping in the cold and filth of the trenches in some of the most miserable conditions imaginable. The second is the description of a street fight in Barcelona between Communist, Socialist, and Anarchist militias who were all fighting against Franco, but grew to distrust each other. The third is Orwell’s miraculous survival from a bullet he takes to the neck, and the fourth is the suppression of his political party by the Spanish government which forces him to return to England.

My favorite section of the book is by far the description of revolutionary Catalonia. Orwell writes about the temporary society the anarchists had created:

“Many of the normal motives of civilized life – snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. – had simply ceased to exist. The ordinary divisions of society had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money-tainted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no one owned anyone else as his master. Of course such a state of affairs could not last. It was simply a temporary and local phase in an enormous game that is being played over the whole surface of the earth. But it lasted long enough to have its effect upon anyone who experienced it.”

Homage to Catalonia is essentially a tragedy as it set against the backdrop of Franco’s takeover of Spain, but one cannot help feel the excitement and ultimate disillusionment that Orwell felt during this unique time in history. Orwell’s book is not just the definitive account of revolutionary Catalonia, it is one of the best war stories ever written.

You can check out 1984, Animal Farm, Homage to Catalonia and more of Orwell’s work on Hoopla as ebooks or digital audiobooks.  Animal Farm and 1984 are also available from elibrarNJ and eBCCLS.

What is your favorite work by Orwell?  Share it with us in our comment section!

Written by:
Karl Schwartz
Young Adult Librarian

Civility is in the Trickles Not the Waves: Books on Civility in the Workplace by Christine Porath and Richard Carlson

17 Apr


April is Workplace Conflict Awareness Month.  Recently I came across a book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at Work by Richard Carlson. This is a branch off of another general book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s All Small Stuff which basically spoke about how not to let little things take over your life. The motto of the “at Work” book was “simple ways to minimize stress and conflict while bringing out the best in yourself and others”. This rang true and deeper after I came across a TED Talk video with Christine Porath.

In this 15 minute video, Christine talks about incivility and how it affects people in the workplace. She goes on to talk about how lifting people up in the workplace has a better outcome of total workplace success than tearing them down. Many variations of tearing one down can also be a determining factor on how both the “tearer” and the “teared” may be affected, because disrespecting a coworker not only affect them. Therefore, it is beneficial to be civil to others as well as yourself because in the end, it will come back to you.

I find that reading can be a form of exercise and if you’re thinking of ways to exercise how to be proactive in improving yourself, you should check out Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat Series as well as Christine Porath’s Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.

It’s not about doing all the right small things and doing a lot of it. It’s about being intentional in the small things that you do. Respecting your coworkers is not just about the workplace and being successful. It’s also about being civil and accomplished as a human being to the world as a whole. To your parents, your family, your kids. It’s about something bigger than being a good boss or worker. Incivility ultimately boils down to who you want to be at the end of the day.  Incivility may be subjective but all in all being civil is universal.

Aggression, insubordination, mocking, impoliteness, rudeness, shouting and being short with someone. These are more obvious forms of incivility. Ones that hurt you to the core the moment it sparks. But what are the most dangerous forms of incivility? I believe it to be true that small things matter most. That attention to detail really is key to success and failure and this holds true for workplace behavior as well.

A workplace is an environment that on average we spend 30 percent of our week. This is whole other family – a makeshift home – we have to work on revitalizing the foundation daily. It’s an important environment with important tasks and should be deemed the respect as one’s actual home is.

Written by:
Sherissa Salas
Adult Programming Assistant

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