2016 TBR Challenge Pile Fail: The Grapes of Wrath

Last year I read and loved John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. It took me about a decade to recover from the devastation and heartbreak caused by Of Mice and Men. When I finally read East of Eden as part of my TBR Pile Challenge last year, I fell in love. It was one of the most perfect books I’ve read.

So this year I was all about putting The Grapes of Wrath on my 2016 TBR Pile Challenge list. This great novel about The Depression, one of those epochs of time that had such a profound effect on American history, seemed like a good idea. I was ready to be swept away by Steinbeck’s beautiful, precise, and exacting prose. I looked forward to characters that would stay with me, that would change my outlook on life and love and move my soul in unexpected ways. I had hoped that this year my challenge books would all be read, without any books marked as DNF.

I lasted about 30 pages before I decided to give up.

So much dust you guys. And there was a thing with a turtle struggling through the dust before a truck on the road? And dust. A guy who got out of jail for killing someone hitching a ride with a truck driver? And dust. Dust EVERYWHERE.


At one point I thought seriously about going back to the start and highlighting every use of the word “dust” but it seemed like it would actually be a lot of work and I didn’t want to deface a library book.

I’m sure that this book is good. I’m sure that it’s on the list of books that we all have to read before we die and that some of you reading this right now are horrified that I gave up on this masterpiece after just 30 pages. But I’m really ok with it.

Maybe one day I will come back to it and it will do all those things I hoped it would. Maybe now is not the right time for me to read it. I don’t know.

I do know that when I stopped trying to read it, I felt a massive sense of relief. And that I’m getting so much better at walking away from a book that isn’t capturing my imagination instead of trying to slog through it. And that now one of my alternates is once again going to have to step in for me to complete my challenge; I’m liking the look of Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck.

30 thoughts on “2016 TBR Challenge Pile Fail: The Grapes of Wrath

  1. Bless you for even trying! Despite being an English major and a librarian I have never even attempted this book. I’m not a fan of Steinbeck overall and dust? Not so much.

    Thanks to you I am permanently crossing this one off my list. Woo hoo!

  2. I haven’t read this book either and I don’t believe it’s my type of book. I genuinely have no interest in reading it…. :s
    You should have the right to walk away from any book if it’s not giving you a sense of satisfaction or enjoyment. If you felt relief after abandoning a book, then you had no business reading it. I had to learn to do this recently as well due to a naive rule I imposed on myself to finish every book I read. How silly I was!

    • Yay you! Solid start – it’s barely March!
      I’m looking forward to Thunderstruck actually. I was probably quick to pull the trigger on a DNF because I knew it meant I’d “have” to read Thunderstruck.

  3. Yeah, you probably have to be in the mood for dust and depression to enjoy this. I guess I was in the right mood for it when I read it, because I loved it. Also, I think I remember that it does have a slow beginning, but it picks up once they’re on the road. The dust might follow them around, though. It would have been fun to hear your thoughts about the ending…

    It’s funny, because the dustiness is what caused me to put down Lonesome Dove a few years ago when I tried it (my Mother told me that everyone should read Lonesome Dove, even if they don’t like westerns). I just was not in the mood for hot, desert-y weather and red skies. I can still remember that feeling. Funny that it didn’t bother me when I read Grapes of Wrath.

    • On the road? They go on the road? I think I’m even more ok with not reading this now – I don’t really love road trip books.
      Thanks for the heads up on Lonesome Dove. Westerns are also not my thing!

      • They go on the road in an old, falling apart truck, jam-packed with all the stuff they own in the world, and they drive to California where they think they will be able to get jobs. But everyone else is going there, too. So, not only a road trip, but a depressing one. I loved it, but I can see why some people wouldn’t. 🙂

  4. I haven’t read Steinbeck either! definitely making a note not to start with the dust. I already called a DNF on one 2016 TBR too so you’re not alone. Better to be on to the next book that you’ll love.

  5. That’s how I feel about Charles Dickens. Everybody loves him, but I find his books tortuous. I haven’t read Steinbeck since high school – “Of Mice and Men”, I think. It’s hard for me to not finish a book though. I usually suffer my way through it, which I don’t think is necessarily the right thing to do either. Love your honesty!

    • I had to work really hard to find a book by Dickens that I liked. I do like A Christmas Carol (nice and short) and in the end, I loved A Tale of Two Cities but even that, I remember being like “will this be worth it??” Turns out Dickens as a human wasn’t great either. Not to his family.
      It’s SO HARD to walk away from a book. The first time is excruciating and then you do it again and another time and eventually you don’t agonize about it anymore. I almost didn’t even flinch when I made the call this time.

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  7. There’s a non-fiction book about the Dust Bowl called The Worst Hard Time, and it’s terrific and outs much of that in perspective. If you decide to pick up GoW again I’d suggest reading this one also, because really, truly–there was dust EVERYWHERE, all the time. Absolutely horrifying what people endured.

    • I’ve watched a number of documentaries about the time and you’re completely right – there really was dust everywhere. I’m not sure why it bothered me so much to constantly read about it – maybe it was just that the same word felt repetitive? I might have to check out the non-fiction option!

  8. Awe man. This is on my TBR cause I’ve loved Steinbeck’s others. I actually use the chapter about the turtle in Grapes of Wrath to teach symbolism when I teach Of Mice and Men. The turtle, his journey across the road, the road itself, being flipped over, etc, etc is all symbolic of the people’s journey. And yes, someone totally told me this, I didn’t see it myself! Ha!

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  11. This is one of my favorite books–I must have read it 100 times in high school and college–but it isn’t for everyone. Kudos to you for trying it!

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