Monday, December 7, 2009

The Grapes of Wrath

I completed the lengthy audio book of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath over the weekend. I had selected this audio book for several reasons: 1) I always feel like I need to read more "classics" and this one was handy at the library, 2) I had read Of Mice and Men many years ago and enjoyed it pretty well, and 3) this is supposed to be one of the greatest American novels of all time. In fact, many people would put it number one on their list. And in case you didn't know, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel prize for Literature in 1962.

Many times I find the "classics" to be dull and even just plain boring. Not so this time although it is not an easy read and I would say it is usually depressing. This is truly an American story. We follow the Joad family for about nine months during the Dust Bowl/Great Depression days as they decide to uproot their family from Oklahoma where they have lived for generations as sharecroppers, and follow them to California as they search for a better life. Along the way they encounter numerous obstacles, many of them very dangerous, and we get an upfront and close personal view of their day-to-day lives. Once they finally reach California, they find it's not the paradise they have heard about and their daily struggle continues.

I believe this book can be read on several levels. The more scholarly types like to hold this book up as a classic example of the way one family has to exist in a system that favors the powerful land owner vs. the farmers and laborers. It's certainly true that Steinbeck's method of writing this book supports that view. He intersperses each lengthy chapter with a shorter "big picture" description of what is happening in the world at that time. The California scenes, especially, are poignant examples of the plight of migratory farm workers, a subject which Mr Steinbeck was almost obsessed. Some people criticise the book as too "socialistic" or even "communistic" but I see it as a reflection of the times in which it was written and in the timeframe it portrays.

While I can very much appreciate this novel on such a grandiose scale, I also appreciate they way the characters are written. I think most regular readers of this blog will know that characterization is the number one mark of a great novel for me and this one has it in spades. The entire Joad family, especially Tom, Ma, Uncle John, and the former preacher, Jim Casy are fantastic examples of greatly written characters. Tom Joad himself is as important a character in American fiction as Holden Caufield and Jay Gatsby and only a notch below Huckleberry Finn himself. I worry that many students were assigned this book to read in High School and came away with a complete distaste for Steinbeck. Actually I worry about that for all sorts of "classic" books. But now that I have achieved some level of maturity (I can't believe I just wrote that) it is possible that I can appreciate the true worth of a book like this.

My next audio book will be...dunno. Depends on what I find at the library but it will have to be a shorter book than this so I can finish it before the end of the year.

1 comment:

  1. Spanking Shakespeare is a hilarious book that I first experienced on CD.


Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire