Wednesday, June 25, 2014

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I often think of "modern classics" as those books I read in school but didn't like. Studying three novels a week per class (with several classes per semester) made it difficult to really pay much attention to anything but what would work well in my next essay. One of the wonderful gifts of old age is that we can return to some of those blurred works and actually pay attention. Reading East of Eden recently was a wonderful experience of a great book by a great author which deserved much more attention that it got in my 20th century novel class.

East of Eden is often relegated to a lower status than Grapes of Wrath in Steinbeck's cannon, but it is without a doubt a masterwork. Steinbeck's writing is superb. His characters are absolutely true to life. His settings and descriptions put the reader in exactly that place at exactly that time. Perhaps the only slight weakness of the book is the scatter shot plotting and its daunting length.

Based on the Book of Genesis, East of Eden is the multi-generational study of two families as they move across the country and through time. While the literary references and symbolism may seem at times a little heavy handed, they add much depth for the careful reader. Through these families, the book present a wonderful picture of America as it grew and matured along with its citizens. Steinbeck gives us a deep study of what it means to be human in the most classical sense through his very "modern" novel.

If you haven't read East of Eden, please don't hold the James Dean movie against it--it really is a great book. And if you haven't read books from the canon of American literature since college, please take the time to really read a few giving them the attention they deserve. They deserve their fame!

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