Tuesday, 2 October 2012
John Steinbeck - How He's Awesome and Why There's All The Pressure
Today is the first day of posting for Laura's Grapes of Wrath readalong. If you want to join in (and you totally should) you can do that here. And so, today is the day we are supposed to post about our previous experiences of Steinbeck and suchlike. I first tried to read The Grapes of Wrath when I was about thirteen and hated it. This is probably where I went wrong with Dickens as well - I just really didn't have the appreciation for the complexity and detail in the writing when I was that age. Let's face it, I was still in the tale end of my Saddle Club phase, and fully immersed in The Babysitters Club. Not the most complex of series, but anyway. Borrowed it from the library, tried to read it for about a week, got through approximately two pages, gave up and took it back. Then we got to GCSEs and all of the other English classes in my year (literally, all of them) were studying Of Mice and Men, but because we had a teacher who actually trusted us to read a book that was proper length, we studied To Kill a Mockingbird, and thus I avoided more reading of Steinbeck.
Fast-forward six years and I started a very (very) brief phase of tutoring Korean kids for English Literature GCSE, and so I finally had to actually get myself together and read Of Mice and Men, and eek. There I was, happily reading away and thinking about how the book was kind of great in a really subtle way but not a lot was happening, and then the last few pages happened without me really noticing and I reached the end of the book, shut it, opened it again, re-read the last few paragraphs, shut it again, opened it again, and went back to the beginning. I love that book. I don't think any book before or since has had quite so much of a 'what the fuck just happened while I was momentarily daydreaming about cupcakes' kind of impact on me. Brilliant.
Then last year I signed up to read East of Eden for the now defunct Classics Circuit, and that was also a brilliant idea. I knew it was going to be a better experience than the epic failure with The Grapes of Wrath because reading the pages of description which make up the beginning I kept stopping to read bits out to whoever happened to be there at the time. I really enjoyed it, especially for its' darkness. I loved that Steinbeck wasn't afraid to create characters that it was pretty impossible to like, and that he didn't particularly seem to care about conforming to social stereotypes of what people (mothers, especially) should be like.
I know little to nothing about Steinbeck himself, but my research tells me that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature which is pretty impressive, so well done for that, Steinbeck. Also that he was from California (which I'd kind of guessed, because his books appear to be mostly set in California...), and that he never actually graduated from college, which just goes to show what can be achieved without a degree.
I'm really excited about The Grapes of Wrath, and I'm really hoping that I'll still be able to finish it once the baby is here with us. We shall see!