REVIEW: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

“Mine Eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord/ He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored…”
~ The Battle Hymn of the Republic

 

“In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage”
~ Steinbeck

 

The Grapes of Wrath is one of my favorite movies and yet somehow I’d never read Steinbeck’s 1940 Pulitzer Prize winning novel. It’s complicating to read a book after the movie because no matter how hard you try, what you see as you read, is the movie. Tom Joad is Henry Fonda for me. I will never envision him, or hear him, any other way. Unlike many films, seeing the movie before reading the book does nothing to diminish either. The stark movie so closely follows the book that the dialogue and soliloquys are verbatim, the scenery and background exactly as described.

This is a deeply poetic, heart-wrenching and picturesque read. An American Literature Classic and often required reading in high school, the novel has inspired many to social justice, to a left-wing political mindset, and in so doing, it has contributed greatly to making America better than she would have been without it, to laws and policies that put people before business, to easing the suffering of the elderly, children and those down on their luck through no fault of their own, to making society more compassionate.

The Joad family has sharecropped the same Oklahoma land for generations. It’s their home. The Great Depression hits. The drought hits. They are barely surviving. Then big farm business and the banks come in and tell them they must go. Where? We don’t care, but you must leave here. We’ll go west. California needs farm workers, they have jobs. California squeezes the last bit of life out of them and then says get out “Okies”, we don’t want you here.

Steinbeck eloquently speaks for the poor, for immigrants, for the working man, for those trampled by the machines of capitalism at its worst, capitalism without the necessary balancing humanitarian voices.  He lived it with them, writing articles to the San Francisco newspapers about the atrocities these laboring human beings from Oklahoma were suffering, demanding that people take notice and act to right the wrongs. And they did.

If you haven’t read this inspirational book, I humbly suggest that you add it to your TBR – even if like me, you’ve seen the movie. Literature just doesn’t get much better.

A book made into a movie you’ve already seen

 

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REVIEW: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
~Shakespeare

 

It was poor planning on my part to read The Sound and the Fury just after Beloved. Southern ghost story after Southern ghost story with time serving as a malleable character of its own. The Black South. The White South. I was lost in both of them for most of the holidays.

Faulkner’s novel is a well written book with words and sentences that are almost musical and paint languorous pictures of the American south. The characters, there are four of them, that tell the story are richly developed and complex. The story itself is best read slowly so the layers reveal themselves and it begins to make sense. This is not an easy read, and like most things Southern, you can’t hurry it along.

The Compson family of Northwest Mississippi used to be one of great name and reputation, but those that are left aren’t. The current generation retains only the name. Young Benjy appears to be developmentally challenged, but his memories are vivid. Depressed Quentin, the oldest, seems to be stuck in the past and to his sister, Caddy. Spirited Caddy is close with her brothers and protective of Bengy. Racist Jason is greedy, dishonest and sees no value in family. It’s their memories and thoughts that tell the story so it can be difficult to know exactly what’s happening when and whose version is real, or at least the closest to real.

I love the South. I usually love Southern writers – the slow way they paint a story in your mind that will stay there long after the last page is read. My timing contributed to my not liking this novel as much as I may have otherwise. Given its reputation, I owe it to Faulkner, and myself, to read this again someday.

√  A book that is also a stage play or musical 

√  Pop Chart Labs 100 Essential Novels

REVIEW: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Morrison’s Beloved is a hauntingly beautiful and poetic read that left me so bereft of spirit and full of guilt that I find it difficult to write this review. I listened to this as an audio book read by Toni Morrison herself. Her voice and passion bringing her own characters to life added to my grief.

Beloved is set in the 1870s in Ohio and is told mostly by Sethe, a woman who narrowly escaped her enslavement on a Kentucky plantation. Through her voice and others, the horrors of that slavery and escape are described in a way that takes you there knowing that in reality you can only imagine a small percentage of the actual horror. What you read, what you hear and what you feel will take your breath away and the knowledge that it was so much worse will make you physically ill.

The violence in the book is palpable to the point of feeling pain. The despair and anguish so real as to be crippling. Put the book down and step away for a bit knowing those who lived through this never had that option. They are stronger than you. The least you can do is read on. This “rememory” needs to be heard.

Is Beloved, the child character now an adult, real? A ghost in human form? Does it make it an easier read to think Sethe is mentally unstable? Perhaps for a lot of readers, yes, this needs to be true. The violence and complete lack of humanity could definitely cause anyone to suffer a mental breakdown. It could also cause them to become strong in ways unfathomable to the average reader.

Would you kill your own children to spare them being enslaved by people you personally knew the brutality and inhumanity of? Could you? Everything in the book is so unreal. And yet it is real. Weeks after reading this book, I am still trying to simultaneously get the images out of my head and yet make sure they are never forgotten. Beloved is a must read.

√  A book with a character (or written by an author) of a race, religion, or sexual orientation other than your own – GirlXOXO

√  A book from a celebrity book club – PopSugar

√  Pop Chart Labs 100 Essential Novels

Review: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach is a beautifully written story to just get lost in. One can so easily see this story on the big screen as you immerse yourself in it. This is the best of family drama and historical fiction woven together in a thoroughly enjoyable read. The novel opens with a precocious young girl, Anna, putting her bare feet in the icy waters of the Atlantic. “It only hurts at first,” she said. “After a while you can’t feel anything.” It’s the scarce years of the depression. She is 12 years old and has come along for her father’s business meeting with a wealthy man, Dexter Styles, who lives on the beach. The man is impressed by her stoicism and her father beams with pride.

The book now jumps ahead several years to the beginnings of WWII and Anna is a working young adult, her father having mysteriously deserted the family years ago. Mr. Styles crosses Anna’s path again although he doesn’t recognize her as the little girl he met on the beach all those years ago. She doesn’t remind him and later lets him make love to her in a deserted boat shed. Her revelation at this point sends them both into a tail spin.

Egan then takes us back to the story of Anna’s father, Eddie, and his missing years. Without giving anything away, she ends by masterfully tying the stories all of three, Anna, Dexter and Eddie, together in a suspenseful climax.

As with Egan’s other works, the characters in this book are rich and complex and each of their stories is told with an expert voice. They focus on the details of strong family ties, extraordinary current events and complicated relationships and they simultaneously draw the reader in with their poetic and insightful musings. These are people you want to know, to spend time with, to be a part of their world for an all too short 438 pages.

√  A book you meant to read in 2017, but didn’t get to

2018 Book Challenges

Although I set my Goodreads goal at 75 versus the 52 of 2017, I plan to do less challenges this year. Only two in fact: PopSugar’s 2018 Challenge and Girl XOXO’s Monthly Motif Challenge. Oh, and probably the 24 hour challenges as they come along, but I don’t really think of them as challenges per se. Along the way I’ll continue scratching off covers on Pop Chart Lab’s 100 Essential Novels .

Doing so many challenges last year somehow made reading less enjoyable for me. It turned it into more of something I had to do, rather than wanted to do. And I love reading. I’m pretty much always reading something. So it shocked me when I caught myself feeling that way.

I learned that I don’t enjoy audio books as much as physical books. I like listening to stories while I knit or busy my hands with something else, but I don’t get as much pleasure from them. I want to be able to see a beautifully written sentence in print. It’s magical for me and takes my breath away every time. Spoken words just don’t have that same effect for me.

This year I want to rediscover my love of reading for the pure enjoyment of it, of getting lost in great books and living in worlds far away from my own.

I hope 2018 brings you many magical reads of your own.

 

REVIEW: At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants is one of my favorite reads so I was delighted to see Gruen’s At the Water’s Edge available from the Timberland Regional Library. My delight soon turned to disappointment. Although I finished it, the book was an overall lacking read.

WWII is on the horizon. A socialite girl, Maddie, and two ill-mannered and spoiled boys, Ellis and Hank, go to Scotland. One to find a monster, Loch Ness, and finally prove his worth to his father; the other because he really has nothing better to do and isn’t quite ready to tie the knot with his longtime girlfriend. Maddie, equally pampered, is just a token character that has been used by both of them for years. She is married to one due to a coin toss.

Any relationship between the three unravels because none of them are exactly civil or responsible, but rather demanding and thoughtless to each other and everyone else in the book. Far from accomplishing anything, they mostly spend their days in a state of opiate and/or alcohol induced stupor. Gruen apparently didn’t see a need to give any of them many redeeming or sympathetic qualities so it’s difficult to like them or care what happens to them in the story.

This too (see The Paris Wife review) reads more like a romance novel than historical fiction. There may be the stereotypical happy ending, but the book is poorly written and reads more like Gruen was writing to satisfy a publishing contract than a need to tell a story. Admittedly, I’m not even sure what the point of the story was.