More than 60 years after it was published, George Orwell’s novel “1984” became the best-selling book on Amazon.com by Wednesday morning.
The dystopian novel about an authoritarian government is still taught in schools on Long Island and across the country, but the recent surge in sales appears to be linked to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s use of what some are calling “Orwellian” language.
On Sunday, during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Conway said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was using “alternative facts” when he stated that the audience for President Donald Trump’s inauguration last week was the largest in history. Several crowd-size experts have disputed the claim.
It didn’t take long before social media users and others drew comparisons to Orwell’s novel, which describes a dystopian world where free will is suppressed and citizens are under constant government surveillance.
Jan Buckaloo, 82, of Wainscott, stopped by Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor Wednesday afternoon to purchase a copy of “1984.”
“I bought it because of Trump and the ‘alternative facts,’ ” Buckaloo said. “The minute [Conway] said that, the first thing that went through my mind was Orwell.”
Buckaloo, a playwright, said the last time she read the novel was about 50 years ago.
“It was a very powerful book in the ’50s and spoke to what was going on in the Soviet Union and also things that were happening in our own society at the time,” Buckaloo said. “Even now, the book still sticks with you.”
Sales of the book have increased by more than 9,500 percent since the inauguration, a spokesman for the book’s publisher, Signet Classics, said. Signet ordered a 75,000-copy reprint of the novel earlier this week and is “considering additional reprints,” the spokesman wrote in an email.
“It’s such a detailed and nuanced depiction of a dystopian future that whenever people are uncomfortable with an authority figure or with government in general, you can find something in ‘1984’ that will speak to that,” said Celia Marshik, chair of the English department at Stony Brook University.
Orwell wrote extensively about the power of language and how it could be weaponized to distort the truth. In the novel he writes about double-think — accepting two contradictory thoughts — and newspeak — ambiguous and simplistic language — which both act to limit freedom of thought.
Sales of the book also spiked in 2013 after Edward Snowden leaked the extent of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, CNN reported.
In that instance, Marshik said she believes people latched onto Orwell’s description of the government surveillance apparatus.
Patricia Capon, English department coordinator at Westhampton Beach High School, said the novel gets her 10th grade English students thinking about the “big questions.”
“It’s a way to get the kids thinking about models of democracy and what it means to be in a free and open country,” said Capon, who reintroduced the novel after a lapse in 2012, when concerns about cybersecurity and online privacy were high.
Locally, some bookstores are also seeing a boost in sales of the novel. Maryann Calendrille, who co-owns Canio’s Books, said the store has seen a “modest increase” in “1984” sales and a lot of interest from customers seeking Orwell’s biography and essays.
Kerry Teichmann, manager of Book Revue in Huntington, said the store recently sold several copies of the book and has more in stock in anticipation of increased sales.
“We’ve definitely seen more interest from customers in the past few days,” she said.