At the beginning of summer, I agreed to my friend Jacqui’s challenge to read 15 Classics in 15 Weeks. At least, I agreed in spirit, with the understanding that I may not accomplish it in the suggested timeframe. Obviously I haven’t, but not for the reasons I thought (kids, work, etc.).
In late July I began reading Steinbeck’s East of Eden, a novel Jacqui read in a day and a breath, a novel that my friend Deacon Tyler couldn’t wait for me to finish. I struggled to finish, not because it was slow going or difficult or bad, but because it was so good. It required my full attention for long periods of time, and I wouldn’t cheat it.
This is a novel to break yourself upon — a mountain of a book that makes you want to climb even at risk of life and limb.* This is a book, Jacqui and Jinglebob, that inspires you to want to write breathtaking, aching prose, and makes you afraid to ever set down another inadequate word on paper.
My summertime Three Things to Love schtick seems to belittle this book somehow, but here goes:
- Grand Themes. The book is biblical, universal, deep, and moving.
- Minute Authenticity. Steinbeck conveys complex emotion precisely with a single detail: the arch of a brow, the movement of lips. Beautiful.
- Memorable Characters. Samuel and Liza Hamilton. Cal Trask. Lee and Abra. Complex, flawed, and totally lovable for it.
I liked the book. A lot. Next: The Picture of Dorian Gray.
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*This gushing praise is authentic for my part. A colleague started this book during the fall and quit, seeing it as an apologetic for bad parenting. You may not like it; I am not as well read as I should be, but this may be my favorite book I’ve ever read.