I knew I wanted to study Literature after the first quarter of my senior year of high school, more than 20 years ago, when I was assigned a book report on The Grapes of Wrath. I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with that knowledge – I wanted to be either an attorney or a food and travel writer – but I knew my voracious appetite for reading and analyzing books could happily carry me through a few more years. I think the novel chose me – I picked it because I like a good challenge and heard it was an ok read. I don’t know why I thought I could adequately read and absorb 500 pages of intricately descriptive prose, but I did.
A couple of weeks before the report was due, I opened the book for the first time. I read the first few chapters, felt overwhelmed with the details, and decided that the only way I would pass that report was to buy the Cliff’s Notes. So I gathered a bit of allowance money and the next time I went into The City for gymnastics lessons, I stole away to the bookstore in the mall and found a copy. I finished the abbreviated book (all 150 pages) that night, and decided I needed the full story.
I read the full 500 page novel in five nights. I did nothing but read. I didn’t do any other homework, I left practices early, I didn’t study for tests, I slept the minimum to get by, I read at the supper table, at breakfast, at lunch, and I devoured that novel. Never before had I read a book with such stunning imagery and a command of American English. My skin prickled with anticipation each time I had a few minutes to steal away and read. And when it was over, I did nothing. I thought about the book and the symbolism and the meanings behind everything (compliments of the footnotes in the Cliffs Notes). The night before my report was due, I realized I hadn’t written it because I was so absorbed in thinking about it that the actual report seemed a secondary importance. By that time I didn’t care what the assignment was. I was hooked and I couldn’t figure out a way to express just how life-changing that novel was to me. I finished the report, but just barely, and just well enough to pass.
History books be damned – the America I know was written by the unsurpassed imagination of Mr Steinbeck. No stranger to recognizing and living with full empathy the hardship of modern-day America, Steinbeck makes each person who reads his novels re-live the steps of ancestors fully entwined in daily normalcy. Normal American life was Steinbeck’s lifeblood – he wrote about the ordinary and turned it into the extraordinary.
Cheers to you, John Steinbeck.
The Jack Rose:
Brandy, Applejack, or Grappa
“I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.” – John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley
(photo credit: sustainablelumberco.com)