When I run out of books, and have no idea what to look for at the library, I go browse at Mom’s. (Her personal library is, shall we say, extensive. At least it was until she started culling her collection. See? She’s such a good example.) The last time I “shopped” at her house, I found myself breaking one of my cardinal reading rules by picking up East of Eden.
The rule, you ask? Do not read Steinbeck. Don’t. No good can come of it.
I’m sorry if I made any of my more literary-minded friends gasp and drop their drinks with that confession, but there you have it. I am not a fan. I don’t know if every school in Northern California was as enthusiastic about Mr. Steinbeck as they were in the district where we lived, but we were introduced to his work at a young age. And let me just say that maybe I wouldn’t have started forming such a negative view if we hadn’t read The Red Pony in the seventh grade. Not to spoil it for any of you, but it doesn’t end well for the pony. Buzzards are involved. I’ve said enough.
In high school, it was on to Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men. I do remember reading the latter, and thinking it was good but depressing; I have no memory of the former, most likely because I never really read it per se, but skimmed it enough to pass the quizzes. Once those two were out of the way, I made my rule and managed to stick with it for twenty years. Still, East of Eden sounded pretty good, and maybe I would appreciate Steinbeck’s writing more as an adult. Worth a shot, right?
Would that I had heeded Reading Rule #2: No more Oprah Book Club picks. Remember A Fine Balance? Remember? [A beautifully written book, by the way, just wonderful. Oh, but more of a downer it could not have been.] Nothing good ever happens to those people! Don’t be fooled again by the “triumph of the human spirit” claims! “Triumph of the human spirit” = “One or more characters will suffer misery after misery”!
So true. So.true.
[Now you know what is at the heart of my rigorous book selection process, if you hadn’t already guessed from my love of YA fiction and books about pastry. Some tragedy is acceptable, but not too much. Hundreds of pages of bad things happening to good people? Even if they manage to cobble some small bit of happiness together by the end? Not my favorite stories.]
In all seriousness, though, I will have to admit that E of E was a very well-written novel. Heck, I’ll even go so far as to call it a page-turner. Maybe I’m even glad that I read it, if for no other reason than to make sure that I wasn’t stubbornly clinging to the opinions of the 15-year-old me. (Surely no good could come of that either, am I right?) Nonetheless, that girl had a point in this case; the rules are back in effect starting…now! My apologies, ghost of John Steinbeck. And Oprah. Well, no, not O, because would it kill you to pick a thought-provoking novel that didn’t emotionally drain the reader? For once, I mean. I’m just saying.