The Great Books of the World – Part 3

 

“When the imagination sleeps, words are emptied of their meaning.”

Albert Camus

 

I caught the reading bug as a child, probably as a means of escape. I once became so engrossed in a book that I was found in the late afternoon, still in my nightdress, sitting on the floor, oblivious of the time or the fact that I hadn’t gone to school. Needless to say, I was punished and books were locked away. In my house, I surround myself with books. They are in every room, everywhere I look, and beautifully arranged, as according to Seneca, ‘if you have a library and a garden, you have everything.’ I have both. In my library, there are no books that one can find at the airports –  holiday romances, cheap thrillers, and ‘action’ adventures without any real actions.

A good book makes us more thoughtful, more alert to the world’s wonders, more knowledgeable, it extends our vocabulary. and makes us more interesting as company, gives, often life-changing, inspiration  The books that I am presenting here are on all lists of essential reading.  Today, I am writing about the works of one of the greatest writers, whose books remain immediately appealing and deeply affecting – John Steinbeck.

 

JOHN  STEINBECK

27 February 1902 – 20 December 1968

John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, and grew up in a fertile agricultural valley about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as a setting for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree.

Salinas, California

Stanford University

Steinbeck’s house in Salinas

During the next five years, Steinbeck supported himself as a labourer and a journalist in New York City, working at the same time on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929). After moving to Pacific Grove, he published a few titles but his wider success and financial security came with Tortilla Flat (1935),  stories about Monterey’s peasants. The powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the Californian working-class, Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). After many career experimentations, the next monumental publication was an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history – East of Eden. Steinbeck was a prodigious writer but his Travels with Charley in search of America deserves a mention.

John Steinbeck and Charley

The place The Grapes of Wrath has assumed in American culture remains unique; it is probably the most read great novel. When the book was published in 1939 it was banned in Illinois and reviled as ‘filthy’ in Washington, DC, although the First Lady Roosevelt and her husband read and publicly spoke about it. It quickly rose on the bestseller lists, sold nearly half a million copies in the first year, and received in 1940 both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. A movie based on the book went on to dominate the Academy Awards. By the fiftieth anniversary of its publication, nearly fifteen million copies of the novel had been printed, with another 150,000 added annually. It has been translated into dozens of languages and is analysed at schools and universities. In 1962, The Grapes of Wrath received The Nobel Prize for Literature.

Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath

Escaping from the Dust Bowl county in the film

Despite Steinbeck’s doubts, which were constant during its tumultuous process of composition, The Grapes of Wrath turned out to be not only a ‘fine’ book but the greatest of his seventeen novels. Steinbeck’s mixture of native philosophy, common-sense politics, folk wisdom, working-class characters, and a bold, rhythmic style of writing and raw dialogue – qualified the novel as the ‘American Book’, he had set out to write. The novel’s title came from Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic” – and was clearly in the American grain.  Although many people were shocked by the poverty and hopelessness of the migrant labour situation in California, Steinbeck refused to write a popular book or to court commercial success. It was ironic, then, that shortly after its official publication date on 14 April 1939, fueled by the nearly ninety reviews in the media, The Grapes of Wrath climbed to the top of the bestseller lists for most of the year, selling 428,000 copies in hardcover at $2.75 each. It proved itself to be among the most enduring works of fiction by an American writer, past or present. The Grapes of Wrath entered both the American consciousness and its conscience. If a literary classic can be defined as a book that speaks directly to readers, then The Grapes of Wrath is such a book.

Here is an extract from THE GRAPES OF WRATH:

“In the middle of that night, the wind passed on and left the land quiet. The dust-filled air muffled sound more completely than fog does. The people, lying in their beds, heard the wind stop. They awakened when the rushing wind was gone. They lay quietly and listened deep into the stillness. Then roosters crowed, and their voices were muffled, and the people stirred restlessly in their beds and wanted morning. They knew it would take a long time for the dust to settle out of the air. In the morning the dust hung like fog, and the sun was as red as ripe new blood. All day the dust sifted down from the sky, and the next day it sifted down. An even blanket covered the earth. It settled on the corn, piled up on the tops of the fence posts, piled up on wires, it settled on roofs, blanketed the weeds and trees.

The people came out of their houses and smelled the hot stinging air and covered their noses from it. And the children came out of the houses, but they did not run or shout as they would have done after a rain. Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust.  The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men – to feel whether this time the men would break. The women studied the men’s faces secretly, for the corn could go, as long as something else remained. The children stood near by, drawing figures in the dust with bare toes, and the children sent exploring senses out to see whether men and women would break.”

 

OF  MICE  AND  MEN

John Steinbeck celebrated friendship, both in his life and in his fiction. Before he began to write each morning, he frequently scrawled letters to friends, and these pages, many unpublished, map the contours of his life and art. Friendship is the most enduring relationship in his best work. a fact that places him solidly in a long tradition of American writers. This had shaped his long career, indeed echoed in his acceptance speech for the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature. Steinbeck’s greatness as a writer lies in his empathy for common people – their loneliness, joy, anger, and strength, their connection to places, and their craving for land. Of Mice and Men, arguably the best of his short novels, owes much of this appeal to Steinbeck’s ability to create this thematic complexity within the context of the abiding commitment between friends that is love at its highest pitch.

John Steinbeck’s letters to Marilyn Monroe and Dorothea Lange

Of Mice and Men is a compelling story of two friends, outsiders striving to find their places in an unforgiving world.

The New York Times wrote:

“A thriller, a gripping tale that you will not set down until it is finished. Steinbeck has touched the quick.”

The book tells the story of two drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie, who have nothing in the world except each other and a dream – a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually, they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding, and feelings of jealousy, becomes a victim of his own strength. Tackling universal themes; friendship and shared vision, and giving voice to America’s lonely and dispossessed, Of Mice and Men has proved one of Steinbeck’s most popular works, achieving success as a novel, a Broadway play and three acclaimed films.

A fragment from Of Mice and Men:

“A few miles south of south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool. On one side of the river, the slopes of the golden foothills curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan mountains, but on the valley side, the water is lined with trees  – willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower leaf junctures the debris of the winter’s flooding; and sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over the pool. On the sandy bank under the trees, the leaves lie deep and so crisp that a lizard makes a great skittering if he runs among them. Rabbits come out of the brush to sit on the sand in the evening, and the damp flats are covered with the night tracks of coons, and with the spread pads of dogs from the ranches, and with the split-wedge tracks of deer that comes to drink in the dark.”

“And then from the direction of the state highway came the sound of footsteps on crisp sycamore leaves. The rabbits hurried noiselessly for cover. A stilted heron labored up into the air and pounded down river. For a moment the place was lifeless, and then two men emerged from the path and came into the opening by the green pool.  They walked in single file down the path, and even in the open one stayed behind the other. Both were dressed in denim trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons. Both wore black shapeless hats and carried tight blankets rolls slung over their shoulders. The first man was small and quick, dark of face, with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony nose. Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his paws. His arms did not swing at his sides but hung loosely.

The first man stopped short in the clearing, and the follower nearly ran over him. He took off his hat and wiped the sweat-band with his forefinger and snapped the moisture off. His huge companion dropped his blankets and flung himself down and drank from the surface of the green pool; he drank with long gulps, snorting into water like a horse. The small man stepped nervously beside him.

“Lennie!” he said sharply. “Lennie, for God’s sakes don’t drink so much.”

Lennie continued to snort into the pool. The small man leaned over and shook him by the shoulder.

“Lennie. You gonner be sick like you was last night.”

Lennie dipped his whole head under, hat and all, and then he sat up on the bank and his hat dropped down on his blue coat and ran down his back. “Tha’s good”, he said. “You drink some, George. You take a good big drink”.

He smiled happily.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

66 thoughts on “The Great Books of the World – Part 3

  1. Always good to read your posts, well researched and so informative.❤️👍😊

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Thank you so much, Samreen, greatly appreciated, especially that you are the very first to read it.

    Joanna

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Informative posts as always..

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Lovely post, Joanna! You have written this so meticulously. Thank you so much for sharing. ‘Of Mice and Men’ seems a very interesting read… I’ll have to check it out…. Be blessed.. ❤️💐

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Thank you,, so much Diana, please do, it is a beautifully written story. Thank you. Blessing for you too.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  6. You are very welcome indeed!! I most certainly will read it..thank you too! ❤️💐

    Liked by 2 people

  7. 🙏😊💐❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Wow Joanna, love for books is one thing and a keen eye for good books and writings that are not touched by popular stigma is another. Your research and description again is superb. I’m particularly drawn to the letter written to Marilyn Monroe…not because its a letter written to her..but the choice of words. Thank you for sharing all in this wonderful post.

    Liked by 6 people

  9. I can so relate to your going on reading in your pyjamas Joanna 😅
    Once I read through the whole night and took the day off from work to finish a book 🤗

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you Joanna, I found myself very indulged in your writing. And I must say I admire your choice of books and authors. And the letters on this post were such joy to read.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Thank you, Farah, so very kind. Hurry up, with your books and I will be able to write about your unique talent.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Dear Ahok, thank you so much! You are always so wonderfully apt in your understanding. Thank you!

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Happy Diwali Joanna 🪔🎉💖

    Like

  14. Thank you so much, Richa! I am so glad that you love reading too! I t is very kind to read my post so earlier in the day. Thank you

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Thank you dearly Joanna.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Lovely post, Joanna. Like you, your choices of books are unique too🙂
    Thanks for that reference. It looks to be an interesting read. Will try to find it. Thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. Thank you so much, Ramya, we have a unique connection.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  18. HAPPY DIWALI Ashok, I am celebrating Diwali here too

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  19. You are very welcome Joanna 🤗💜

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Hello Joanna,
    I love your articles, they are intelligent, rich and full of your beautiful sensitivity. We feel that you are passionate and I love it.
    Seneca’s sentence describes you wonderfully, what luck, it is surely that you deserve it!
    Thank you for the photo of some of your libraries …
    It’s like at home, the libraries discreetly gain sections of the wall, without saying anything …
    I’m going to tell you something, I think books are real friends, because what they gave you once they gave you forever and they will never take it back from you.
    Your article on Steinbeck is so strong that I am tempted to say that it is the Victor Hugo or Charles Dickens of America who describes a world without concession while not being afraid to describe the difficulty and sometimes the pain of living.
    Joanna I have so many books and beauty left to discover, but now you make me want to read this author too !!!
    beautiful day Joana and thank you for your passion, it is subtle food for all of us.
    Corinne

    Liked by 6 people

  21. Corinne, oh, Corinne, you are having me in tears! What kind of review this is? Well, by someone intelligent and full of beautiful sensitivity! I wholly agree with you, one can lose everything, money, every other possession, except what is in one’s head. Not many people understand this. When I ask people what they want from life, I am often told: “Money, What else is there?”

    Thank you, Corinne. and I love you!

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Thank you, again and again!

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  23. You are right when I finish next week American writers, just for now, as there are so many, I will start on our greats here and Victor Hugo will be among them.

    Jonna

    Liked by 2 people

  24. I’m sorry Joanna, it’s not good to make beautiful people cry …
    Thank you for all your generosity, I am very happy that our paths meet in this galaxy of blogs,
    I love you too !
    Corinne

    Liked by 2 people

  25. You know, I didn’t find my book “Le Vieil homme et la mer”… I gave it to my daughter and I think she lost it !!
    We wait for you next articles, with joy !!
    Corinne

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Corinne, you are a Sweetheart

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Amazing author. I researched the dust bowl for one of my books and of course found Steinbeck. That set me off on his other books. What an amazing mind.

    Liked by 4 people

  28. Another tremendous post, Joanna! I agree with your followers here, Steinbeck was an amazing author! I have to admit that it is a long time ago that I read the ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, this post encourages me to read it again. I also love books, I think of certain authors as friends and when we downsized I was traumatised when having to reduce my ‘library’.
    Of course, we all have our own ‘stars’. The first adult book I remember reading was ‘The Kon-Tiki Expedition’ by Thor Heyerdahl. I still have my father’s copy of the book, written in 1948, a few years before I was born. It is a book I have carried with me all my life, and in a way, I have still not found my own harbour!
    We eagerly await the next instalment of your ‘Great Books’. 🥰

    Liked by 4 people

  29. Dear Ashley, you are so very kind. I now have books even on the landing and I build a conservatory to store books, altogether over 10,000 and growing. I now have a large set of Hindi books including Sankrit and how to write in Hindu, I am writing to you because you were interested in learning more about India and its language, hence your remark about not having yet found your harbour.

    Thank you, Ashley.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Thank you, Jacqui, so kind of you to take time during your Thanksgiving day. I hope you are able to have your family with you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  31. May I ask how long have you done word press for?

    Liked by 3 people

  32. Thank you, Ben, for showing such an interest in my blog, it is very kind of you. I have been
    writing my blog for about a year and a half now. There are many posts in the archives but you wouldn’t probably have time to explore.
    I also like the courtesy you asked a question, thank you, Ben.

    Joanna

    Like

  33. PS I had 100 + viewing and emials and I can see that I have missed some words.
    Apologies.

    Joanna

    Like

  34. This is so well written! I love Steinbeck books, and it’s cool to read about his background and inspiration for these books.

    Liked by 3 people

  35. Thank you so much, it is so kind of you. I think, that it brings the writer and his books closer to the reader, and that is why I am always looking for unknown facts and photos. Thank you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Dear Joanna, I will write to you shortly. Ashley

    Like

  37. Dear Ashley. I am looking forward to ‘talk’ to you!

    Joanna

    Like

  38. Yet another wonderfully researched write! I haven’t read either of these book but I look forward to reading them soon. I’ve watched a bit of the movie ‘Of Mice and Men’ but I don’t recall much. I especially loved this sentence from your post,
    “A good book makes us more thoughtful, more alert to the world’s wonders, more knowledgeable, it extends our vocabulary.” I found it quite accurate in terms of a lot of current books that are termed ‘Young adult fiction’ often featuring teen protagonists. Most of them are too cliche and hardly have depth to them.
    John Steinbeck sounds like a remarkable author and I hope to read his books soon. I found his letter to Marilyn Monroe quite amusing!

    Liked by 2 people

  39. Dear D, I am glad to read your review because you always bring a different, fresh perspective to the fore. I started my Literary Series exactly to save readers wasting time and be acquainted with books universally acknowledged. Time is the ultimate best judge – if the book is read years, centuries, or even millennia after it was written, it should be read. That is a fact.

    Thank you, D, much appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  40. I’m humbled you think so. I agree with that.
    My pleasure, Joanna!

    Like

  41. My pleasure to know you.

    Joanna

    Like

  42. Sorry, I’m so late! But it meant that I also got to enjoy reading all of the lovely comments that were posted here. I truly love John Steinbeck. His books The Pearl and Of Mice and Men played a large role in my childhood. So it was great to be able to learn more about him. Also, it was great to hear how much books meant to you. I can’t believe you read the whole day without noticing! XD

    Liked by 1 person

  43. For me to forget the time when reading was easy. I am much better now. Thank you, Simone, for your kind review. I am pleased that you like Steinbeck, he lived true to his principles, giving both, his Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winnings to others. I wonder what you will make of the next Saturday’s hero?

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

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