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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.

carson

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.

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TBR Pile Challenge: East of Eden

After I walked away from The Teleportation Accident, I felt like I should probably still choose a book that was on my TBR Pile Challenge list. Luckily, when I went to the library and took out the aforementioned title, I also picked up East of Eden. I thought I might bring it with me for the Easter long weekend (that weekend turned out to be VERY good for my reading stats) but I didn’t end up taking it with.

I don’t know why it took me so long to read East of Eden. Probably because I was devastated by Of Mice and Men and wasn’t too keen to feel that way again for a while. I mean, guys, that book is devastating. Normally I’m all for a book that breaks a reader into a zillion pieces, but that was above and beyond.

I also haven’t read tons of American Lit. I’ve read Little Women and Of Mice and Men and Tom Sawyer and anything else that might have been forced on me on school (in Canada) (and Edith Wharton because Edith Wharton) but most of it I haven’t read. The Grapes of Wrath? Nope. Anything by Hemingway? Nope. The Scarlet Letter? I tried – it was a DNF for me, too many thous. Death of a Salesman, Beloved or My Antonia? Still no.

ANYWAY.

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I finally read East of Eden. And it was spectacular.

I had no idea. I had no idea about any of it. I didn’t know that parts of it was John Steinbeck’s own family history. I didn’t know that the movie was based on only the last third. I didn’t know that it would be so beautiful or profound.

Reading East of Eden for the first time is what I imagine it would be like to see the ocean for the first time. Steinbeck is so clearly the kind of writer that writers aspire to be.

I was initially totally intimidated by the size of the book and the dense text and by the fact that this was a John Steinbeck novel and he’s kind of a paragon of literature. But it was so readable! And the time that I did spend with this novel flew by. I ripped through pages and chapters, it was easy to read 100 pages in a day. Again, surprising.

I loved these characters. I loved Lee and Samuel Hamilton especially. Cathy Ames is something. What a character to create. Diabolical, unapologetic, a complete psychopath – and her a woman in a novel published in 1952. Becky Sharp-like indeed.

I’ve said it before but I’m so glad to have signed up for the TBR Pile Challenge. I might never have read East of Eden otherwise. Certainly not right now. And it was everything I love in a book. I might be a little obsessed with it now.