The Etceteras of Yesterday

 "Poor Thing" by the ever-so-loverly Jennifer-Kate

For whatever reason I've been having trouble getting into a book. Unfortunately, I'm in a time crunch and only have 2 days or so to test the waters of something new before I need to move on (and some books just take a little longer than that). I'd never finish otherwise. My weeks left/number of books left ratio is growing terribly small and is quite possibly in the negatives at this point. I decided to pick up Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men because 1) I have never read/seen any version of it. 2) I love Steinbeck, certainly all that I have read thus far. 3) It's little more than 100 pages (I'm not ashamed, I'm honest.). It was a good call. I'm more than halfway finished and I started at 8PM last night after I ruined dinner... Yep, I ruined it good. Real good. I even had plans to eat leftovers again today... I was that excited about this amazing Chicken Tikka Masala recipe I found. I went to the store, got all kinds of dirty, and I didn't cook the damn spices long enough. I had a very looooong and very boring day at work, Darling was snappy with me when I first got home, and when I finally get my hands into something I (being the smart, efficient, resourceful broad I am) chose to jump ahead, to make cook/prep time 1 hr 15 min instead of 1 hr 55 min, and I didn't cook the damn spices long enough and they were grainy and pungent and inedible. Bust. It was a total kick in the nuts. I haven't had a recipe bomb that badly in... well... a while. Damn spices. So what did I do? I fried up a slice of the pre-purchased garlic naan (it's too hard to make from scratch when it's 645PM before I can get started, right? Right.) gave it a grand glug of good olive oil, brushed it all over, and fried it--soft and brown--and took it to the couch. I sat and stared into space, well, stared at the bookshelves that are on either side of the fireplace and ate that godly fried bread and soon after started Of Mice and Men. and then I ordered delivery . . . with Darlings credit card.

So what is the moral of this story? Fried bread might not be the best option for your body but is, unquestionably, the best option for your sad heart, tummy, and puzzled mind. It leads to good ideas, jealous puppies, and smiles.

California's rolling hills are absolutely Steinbeck appropriate imagery. Again, Jennifer-Kate

In my reading, I liked these words (of philosophy and friendship) found in the novella's wonderful introduction (Penguin edition) by Steinbeck scholar, Susan Shillinglaw:

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 voluminous 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 who send male duos into uncharted terrain. But Steinbeck's vision of camaraderie is less markedly an escape from marriage, home, and commitment than an exploration fo the parameters of society and self. "In every bit of honest writing in the world," he noted in a 1938 journal entry, "...there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that bast theme. Try to understand each other." These words shape his long career, indeed echo 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.


Shortly before beginning The Grapes of Wrath, he voiced his artistic credo in his journal. The committed writer, he asserted, must not become ensnared in political ideologies:

Communists are devils who want to steal the little stucco
house of the grocery clerk and rationalize his wife and
steal his children for a state baby factory. . . . Industrialists
are fat greedy, cruel beasts who take pleasure in bombing
their workers. The paralyzing process is well along. In
Spain the loyalists are shooting rifles at the figure of 
Christ, if you are an insurgent, and the insurgents are
shooting babys [sic] if you are a loyalist. The pressure 
will come fast now. Some writers will get caught in the
process, will write tellingly in the aid of the process and
when it is over they will come back to consciousness
groggy. . . . Others will stand clear, carrying on their 
ancient cry. Try to understand each other. You can't
hate men if you know them. These latter will be si-
lenced. This is no recommendation that you follow the 
last course. You will do it because that is your craft, that 
is what your lives are about. 

Why do people love Steinbeck? Why does Steinbeck's work endure? I think it is best put in the words of Harold Bloom (in reference to his why we should read):  

"We read [Steinbeck] for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough; that we need to know ourselves better; that we require knowledge, not just of self and others, but of the way things are."

 Happy Reading + Better luck next time, eh?

1 comment:

Rachel Swan said...

I'm feeling a little teary now, Em. Beautiful quotes, beautiful post.