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Old 21st Jan 2011, 8:52   #1
Ang
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Default Book 59: EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

The thread about favourite villains brought this book to the fore. I suspect most joining in will have already read it but I haven't. I don't even think I've read Of Mice and Men! I thought education in Iowa was supposed to be good... Surely I've read Grapes of Wrath. Surely? (Not sure).
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Old 21st Jan 2011, 9:01   #2
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Default Re: Book 59: EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

I've not read it; the only Steinbecks I've read are Of Mice & Men and the short story The Pearl.
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Old 21st Jan 2011, 9:07   #3
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Default Re: Book 59: EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

Me neither. I've read Of Mice and Men, and I have had Grapes of Wrath on the shelf for about a year, a gift so far unread; I'm hoping that reading East of Eden will spur me on to finally getting round to the other.
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Old 21st Jan 2011, 19:24   #4
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Default Re: Book 59: EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

I've read Of Mice and Men and The Moon is Down, both ages ago. I'm slightly tempted to jump into this East of Eden party, but it's so massive, and Steinbeck's reputation has slid so badly, that I'm not sure I could hack it (should the sliding of his reputation be deserved, of course).
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Old 21st Jan 2011, 19:38   #5
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Default Re: Book 59: EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

Tempt, tempt, tempt, oh, go on, bill, you know you want to! I'll even re-post JM's "crazy monkey" video as an incentive or contrarily, a disincentive, which has been going round my head all day.

We'll give it a long run-up - say, start discussing at the start of March, to give folks plenty of time to deal with it. (Not that I've even seen how many pages there are in it yet, and I am kind of presuming we have a copy since Mr Col had a real Steinbeck phase about 30 years ago.)
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Old 21st Jan 2011, 19:40   #6
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Default Re: Book 59: EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

The Penguin Classics copy has 600 pages.

bill, I don't know what you mean about Steinbeck's reputation... do I want to know?
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Old 21st Jan 2011, 19:56   #7
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Default Re: Book 59: EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ang View Post
bill, I don't know what you mean about Steinbeck's reputation... do I want to know?
Yeah, did I miss something? I currently rank him as one of my favorite authors, so I hope there's nothing I've missed.
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Old 22nd Jan 2011, 1:19   #8
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Default Re: Book 59: EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

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Originally Posted by bill View Post
and Steinbeck's reputation has slid so badly,

kemosabe?
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Old 22nd Jan 2011, 3:32   #9
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Default Re: Book 59: EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

I mentioned in another thread that I'm not a big Steinbeck fan, but I'm not writing this post to bash on him from my own perspective, just to respond here. It might be discouraging to read this before starting a 500 page book by the man, but, hey, maybe this will only feed the flame.

While I'm not a big fan, I'm also not anti. I took a class in Steinbeck (from one of the only serious Steinbeck scholars in America, now sadly deceased) so I've read most of his books and have pleasant memories of The Winter of Our Discontent, Cannery Row, and Of Mice and Men, even if these too have their weaknesses.

Steinbeck is an interesting inverse of the typical Nobel Prize winner. Usually a prize winner is derided by the public (because the books are obfuscated or feel strange) but remain in print (maybe) thanks to academics. Steinbeck, though, is derided by academics and others in the literary establishment but loved by the general public.

This isn't new for him, though. He wasn't really taken that seriously when he won the prize. According to a NYRB article I will link to below, when Steinbeck won the prize The New York Times editorial said, "Without detracting in the least from Mr. Steinbeck's accomplishments, we think it interesting that the laurel was not awarded to a writer . . . whose significance, influence and sheer body of work had already made a more profound impression on the literature of our age." And just before the awards ceremony, The New York Times couldn't leave it alone and asked why the award would go to a writer whose "limited talent is, in his best books, watered down by tenth-rate philosophizing."

While it's true that The New York Times can find someone to criticize any Nobel Prize winner, when I took my class on Steinbeck I saw these sentiments everywhere. The most convincing criticism of his works was really criticism. It seemed that academics didn't just discount Steinbeck but actively derided him. I was shocked at how much work my professor did (both in class and in his scholarship) just to defend Steinbeck's literary significance. Honestly, to me, he wasn't that convincing.

Steinbeck apparently won the Nobel Prize primarily for The Winter of Our Discontent, which is my favorite book of his. The Nobel Prize committee even allowed that he hadn't really produced anything that great for a quarter century (and they didn't really comment on the strengths of his work in the 30s). Of course, The Winter of Our Discontent was published just a year or two before he won the prize, so even that was shaky foundation for the prize.

Anyway, here is the beginning of the NYRB article (no paywall for this one) I referred to earlier. It's entitled "The Rescue of John Steinbeck," but it doesn't read that way:

Quote:
The extraordinary thing about John Steinbeck is how good he can be when so much of the time he’s so bad. There are talented writers who grow into their full maturity and then decline, slowly or precipitously. But that isn’t Steinbeck. You can divide his work up into coherent periods, but there’s no coherent trajectory of quality.

The publication of the fourth (and, blessedly, final) volume of his fiction by the Library of America makes it easy to track the entire writing career, apart from some journalism and the two weakest of his novels: his first—a puerile potboiler, Cup of Gold (pirates!)—and the late The Short Reign of Pippin IV, a limp, petulant social satire. In fact, just about everything he wrote is in print, not only in these four volumes* but in handsome Penguin paperbacks, which sell well over a million copies a year, with Of Mice and Men accounting for more than half of them. (It’s short, it’s easy to follow, and it’s full of feeling—a perfect assignment for junior high school readers.) Two other short books are assigned to younger kids: the affecting Red Pony stories (why are so many horse books so sad?) and a faux-primitive parable, The Pearl, that makes The Old Man and the Sea read like Flaubert. The Grapes of Wrath also sells well, of course, and so does East of Eden, which a few years ago had a tsunami moment when Oprah “picked” it. (No doubt the Elia Kazan movie featuring James Dean attracts readers—little do they suspect that it tackles only the final segment of the novel.)

So if all of Steinbeck is in print forty years after his death (in 196, and despite the force-feeding of hundreds of thousands of school kids with his work—and official canonization by the Library of America—why is he so decisively off the literary map? Other than Brad Leithauser, who in 1989 published a perceptive fiftieth-anniversary homage to The Grapes of Wrath, who in America considers him seriously today, apart from a handful of Steinbeck academics and some local enthusiasts in Monterey?

. . .

This philosophizing—his compulsion to hector us with heavy-handed opinions and ideas—remains one of the chief obstacles to reading Steinbeck with pleasure today. Like so many other writers of his time, he’s disgusted with capitalism, yet he’s not really a revolutionary—he comes across more as a disaffected adolescent, dishing out a kind of callow cynicism. Although he’s constantly laying down the moral law and grappling with the larger issues, he’s not an abstract thinker or theorist. Instead, he’s got a chip on his soul—a suspicion of formal education, a resentment of authority and institutions. (It’s that resentment which undoubtedly kept him from joining the Party, even at the peak of his radicalism in the Thirties.) In other words, he has the ardor and sincerity—and the confused notions—typical of so many intelligent autodidacts.
Anyway, despite the snags to his reputation, I am looking forward to hearing everyone's thoughts on East of Eden. Regardless of all, Steinbeck is one of the most read "classic" authors in America, and people do love his books.
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Old 22nd Jan 2011, 11:37   #10
Ang
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Default Re: Book 59: EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck

Oddly, that makes me more interested in reading Steinbeck.

I'm not far along but I like what I've read so far of East of Eden.

I have only skimmed the introduction in the Penguin Classics copy lest it give something away, but I noted that it has a defensive tone. The intro is by David Wyatt. Is he perhaps the scholar you refer to, Mookse?
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