The Great Books of the World – Part 3

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

Courtesy of The Modern Samurai:

“I guess there are never enough books.”
John Steinbeck

“Natural Blues” (Reprise Version) by Moby, featuring Gregory Porter and Amythyst Kiah (courtesy of Moby):

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.

“What good is the warmth of summer,
without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?”

John Steinbeck

“Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess” by George Gershwin, performed by Ray Chen:

 

JOHN  STEINBECK

27 February 1902 – 20 December 1968

Courtesy of Biography:

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

Courtesy of Matthew Sollid:

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, on account of its occasional obscene language and general themes,  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. Steinbeck received regular threats following the book’s publication and took to carrying a gun in public, just in case. 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.

“Tumbleweed” performed by Joan Baez:

 

Henry Fonda in the film The Grapes of Wrath

Woody Guthrie’s “The Ballad of Tom Joad” recorded in 1940, was directly inspired by The Grapes of Wrath and the successful John Ford film adaptation, released in 1940 (courtesy of Ronald Blonk):

 

Escaping from the Dust Bowl county in the film

More recently, also inspired by the book and film adaptation, as well as by Woody Guthrie’s ballad, Bruce Springsteen wrote “The Ghost Of Tom Joad”, a modern-day version of the same Great Depression-era concerns, during the early 90s (courtesy of Springsteen & Rock Music):

Courtesy of Reading Through History:

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. The song’s opening lines are as follows:

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.”

“I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, performed by New York Jazz Quartet:

 

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, fuelled 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.

Courtesy of Decades TV Network, the story of Black Sunday:

 

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.”

“Dust Bowl Dance” by Mumford & Sons (courtesy of Mac Dvorak):

 

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.

Courtesy of guyjohn59:

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.

Courtesy of Whiteboard Literature:

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.”

Steinbeck chose the title Of Mice and Men after reading a poem called “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns, in which the poet regrets accidentally destroying a mouse’s nest. The poem resonates with several of Of Mice and Men’s central themes: the impermanence of home and the harshness of life for the most vulnerable. The relevant verse is:

“But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain,
For promis’d joy!”

or in standard English:

“But, Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leaves us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!”

 

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.

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, performed by Sheku Kanneh-Mason:

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.”

“Come, Sweet Death” (Arr. for 5 Cellos) by J.S. Bach, performed by Sheku Kanneh-Mason:

 

A speech given by Marcus Mumford on John Steinbeck, upon Mumford & Sons collectively receiving the Steinbeck Award (courtesy of Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

  1. Great books indeed ,I will definitely read ,”Grapes of Wrath”. Thanks for such a great post and beautiful summarisation.🙌🏻🙌🏻🌸🌺

    I love the way you put so much knowledge into it and we get through you , Thanks a lot Joanna ❤️🌟✨

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for your wonderful comments that I will cherish!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another great post with so much information, literature, music and images.
    Thank you so much for sharing the fruit of your valuable research, dear Joanna 💞

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you, Luisa, for your kind comments. Your words are greatly appreciated!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s well deserved praise! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I feel like I’ve read this post before here? 🤔
    But either way, it’s always refreshing to read about these iconic books and their brilliant authors with music in the background. That quote by Seneca is absolutely lovely! Hope you have a great weekend, Joanna!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. With a library like that, it’s no wonder that you’re so knowledgeable Joanna.

    As for John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, it’s heart-warming to read that he never sought commercial success but success came to him. That’s exactly how it should be. I recently commented on another blogger’s post who had come disillusioned with it all. She had plenty of followers and ‘likes’ but she wasn’t happy because she was writing for her ‘audience’. I suggested that she wrote for herself. I’ll be interested to see if she does and if she’s happier.

    I can tell that you don’t write for your audience Joanna because it’s easy to see that it comes from the soul, which is why I enjoy your posts so much – and this one is no exception. From start to finish you’ve captivated us with your knowledge of Steinbeck and his novels – and interspersed with some great music and pictures. It’s another 10 from me 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  8. First of all, I liked the quote of John Steinbeck. I was relating it with your 10K plus books. And today you took out two gems for us.

    Going through your post and excerpts, The Grapes of Wrath appears to be a realistic look at life talking about poverty, labourers, workers, economic hardship, suffering etc. Of Mice and Men also depicts human ambitions and obstacles. This reminds me of Premchand, who talked about these issues only.

    Frankly speaking, I have not read The Grapes of Worth, but it’s on my bucket list now, as despite winning so many awards including Nobel, I understand this book was once banned in some parts. Thank you, Joanna, for generating my interest and thanks for one more interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you, Kaushal, for your wonderful comments! Reading Steinbeck you will not be disappointed, I can promise you! The short story title comes from a poem by Robert Burns “To a Mouse” and is very apt to the story, if you can, please read it as it is a masterpiece and reduces me to tears every time I read it. Premchand is on my list, but Steinbeck’s way with words is out of this world.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you, Malc, for your words of praise! I cannot express in words how much I appreciate your comments!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love how you take the time to introduce the reader to Steinbeck in so many ways…images, excerpts, YouTubes…along with your great narrative, it really brings the author to us in a way that feels very much alive. Congratulations on these posts…They really feel like labors of love:)

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Yes, D, you did, but it was before I added the videos and the music. I am glad that you approve of the new version.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you, Karima, for your generous comments! Yes, Karima, writing about great books is inspired by LOVE!

    Joanna

    Like

  14. You don’t need to Joanna. I always look forward to your posts 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I am not sure what is happening with WordPress but I was just told that my reply to you is lost.
    Yes, D, you did see the early version without the music and videos. I thought of adding the extras, and I am glad that you like the new version.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ahh, okay! Thanks for clarifying, Joanna! My pleasure!
    Oh, I suppose it was some sort of glitch, maybe? I’ve received both of your responses, no worries! Thank you for taking the time to reply!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Oh sure, Joanna! Will do. It’s my pleasure, truly!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you for a great and informative post Joanna. I especially enjoyed the beautiful playing by the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, thank you for the introduction.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Thank you, Henrietta, for your kind comments. I am glad that you enjoyed the music, greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Your post evoked nostalgia. In my freelance writing days, I was active in the American Society of Journalists and Authors, one of the co-sponsors of the yearly “Banned Books Week.” I had the pleasure of organizing a “We Read Banned Books” event for the public at a large bookstore. I was pleased that our Congressman agreed to participate. I was even more pleased when he spoke about the influence of his librarian mother —and then movingly read a passage from his favorite book: “The Grapes of Wrath.”

    Liked by 4 people

  21. I’ve lived in Monterey, CA. His presence is very real there
    His family home serves lunch daily and makes money for whatever the local charity that runs it. There is a nice store in the basement
    The local Salinas Library is named after him.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Thank you, Pat, for adding interesting facts to my post; something would expect of Steinbeck as he was true to his words and convictions. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you, Annie, for your interesting comment! I love your recollection of the event! Thank you again, Annie, greatly appreciated!

    Joanna

    Like

  24. I’m sure you won’t believe this, Joanna, but I’ve never read either of these books. Now I want to! It’s funny how folks were outraged due to GOW’s language and subject matter, yet the book became iconic. Thank you for this beautiful write-up. 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thank you, Lisa, for your lovely comments. I think you will like the following post and writers.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I laughed and kind of ran my imagination wild on you forgetting going to school till late the next day. There is no doubt, library and garden makes house a home.

    John Steinbeck immediately comes of as a strong personality with strong values. I hazily remember watching Grapes of Wrath but i dont remember anything of it. Neither any book I read from him. But it amazes me how years of toil, hard work towards writing and more concentrated writing produces work of importance and change.

    I think the surprise you were talking about was Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen. Thank you I enjoyed them till much later after the post was finished. And even enjoyed Joan Baez.

    Its a life time tribute to a writer of his calibre. And you seem to have put everything to make us believe that he was the best in his time and he should be read not because he sold copies more than any body has but importantly for what he stood for, and whom he presented. Thank you Joanna for this diamond. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Thank you, Narayan, for your inspiring comments! Steinbeck’s empathy for those in need is still evident with the food provided to the hungry from his house. Your praise, Narayan, id much appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  28. Thank you Joanna for another wonderful post and taking us back in time to these unforgettable times in history and tribute to Steinbeck. He was an extraordinary human being and writer. He would be honored and to see your library thrilled. I love your story, missing school because you were reading. So much fun to see Stanford them as I walk there often. Your mindful approach of composting each piece with clips, pics and stories with your wonderful narration is truly appreciated. 💖🌞🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Thank you, Cindy, for your wonderful comments! It is your praise, Cindy, that made my day! You no doubt know that we have a national emergency day because of the massive heatwave, so we have to stay in and try to keep cool. Thank you again, Cindy.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  30. You’re sooo welcome and I truly enjoyed taking my time and listening to each piece. I’m sooo glad it did. Oh my stay safe and cool. I’m going to try to send to Joan through my friend.. I still have hopes for an interview. I know she would be honored to be included in your wonderful poem!
    💖🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Thank you, dear Cindy! Do what you fill is right with the interview. Let me know if I can do anything.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  32. You’re so welcome.. will do and at the least it’s always nice to know the impact you have made on the world which I’m sure will be appreciated! 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Thank you, Cindy, you are so kind!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  34. of course, always!
    💖

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Thank you Joanna, for reminding to read Steinbeck! I admit that most of my knowledge of him is from watching movies on the TV on Sunday afternoons, in the 1950s! Formative years!
    You put so much time and effort into your posts and we, your readers benefit so much from the content. Sending big hugs 🤗🤗🤗 and now looking forward to Part 4. (Will it be EH? It’s his birthday on 21st!) 🤗💝💖🌹🙋‍♂️

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Thank you, Ashley, for your spirit-lifting comments! Ernest Hemingway was the second on the list as his use of John Donne’s sermon ” No man is an island…” affected my life’s philosophy, and I loved his writing for it. Next, will be another giant of literature, but for some people difficult to read. I am looking forward to your thoughts, Ashley! Big hug to you too.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Sorry Joanna, of course EH was previous post! Not myself this week. Believe it or not I’ve had the worst “summer cold” spending most of the last 2 days in bed!🛌 🤕 I haven’t had a cold for years! Thank goodness it wasn’t the dreaded Covid! Hoping you are safe and cool 💌🌹🙋‍♂️

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Oh, you poor thing, Ashley, I hope it will be over soon.

    I keep everything in the freezer, including water bottles that I cover in T-towels before taking with me to bed.

    If you can get Allbas oil is wonderful to sprinkle around and even smell as it will unblock your nose.

    All the best,

    Joanna

    Like

  39. It was a real pleasure reading your post on John Steinbeck… I read both books you highlighted many years ago, and remember reading at a steady clip, as the sentences to come denied me both food, and rest… (my mother also took away my flashlight, and the GOW book for a few days — should have used a thicker blanket), such an indelible memory…!
    🇯🇲🏖️

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Thank you so much, Ralph, for your lovely comments! I hope you will like each week other great writers.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Another great post and a great writer! I loved Of Mice and Men when I read it in high school. Steinbeck is a marvelous writer. Love your music in your posts as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Thank you, Dwight, for your generous comments. Your visit is greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  43. You are welcome, Joanna! I enjoy your informative and beautiful posts.

    Liked by 1 person

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