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School reading: John Ortved on George Orwell

October 15, 2010 |  8:15 am

John Ortved's "The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History" tells the story of the television show as an oral history, with the voices of Conan O'Brien (a former writer/producer), Deborah Groening (former wife of creator Matt), comic icon Stan Lee, mogul Rupert Murdoch, artist Gary Panter, comedian Albert Brooks, writer Tom Wolfe and a star-studded cast of others. Matt Groening and James L. Brooks appear only as excerpted from other sources -- that's the "unauthorized" part -- but Ortved has created a dishy picture without them. His book is now out in paperback.

Ortved kicks off our new Jacket Copy series on reading the way Bart would: at school. And for Bart Simpson, that would probably be detention.

Jacket Copy: What was the most interesting book that you were assigned in school?
John Ortved: George Orwell's "1984," which describes a dystopian future full of mind control and war. Except we read it in 1996, and everything was pretty good. I enjoy it immensely when people smarter than me are wrong.
JC: What grade were you in, and what was the name of your school?
Ortved:I was in 11th grade at Royal St. George’s College. It is a small Anglican private school in Toronto. I know what you’re thinking, but there really was no hanky-panky. There’s another private school in Toronto, Upper Canada College, where a bunch of that stuff came to light at that time. It was an odd point of pride for us. Like, "Ha ha, you guys got molested and we didn't."  Kids can be cruel.
JC: Did you read the book?
Ortved: Yes. But I had read it before.  My mother had us all reading at a really early age. She gave me "Catcher in the Rye" at age 9, which really is the right age for a child to learn about pimps and nervous breakdowns. 
JC: What did you learn from "1984"? Why does it stand out?
Ortved: It’s such a brilliant book for kids in school because it really highlights the power of education, how knowledge is power in a very real way. Also, there are dirty parts.
JC: Did you write a paper about it? Do you remember what grade you got?
Ortved: I remember having to write an essay.  I’m sure I got an A.  I was a good student -- just one of many notches in my belt of high school unpopularity.
JC: Which teacher assigned it? Did he assign lots of good reading?
Ortved:His name is John Kerr and he was a great English teacher. I had him again for AP English.  He assigned us great stuff: Macbeth, Oedipus Rex, essays by people like Salman Rushdie.
JC: If you were teaching that class today, what book would you assign your students?
Ortved: None. I would just direct them to my Twitter (@jortved, in case you’re wondering). 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Ortved. Credit: Gasper Tringale