Reading lost its value to me for more than a few years, truly a bummer considering my English degree and desire to write for a living. I did read and write sparsely, though, at a time prior, I read voraciously. I completed a couple of books in a few years since then, but I quit reading twice as many books also. Reading never lost its wonderment, but I could rarely complete anything I began, and that was a real bummer. The idea of reading itself was more pleasurable than the doing. The same thing has been going on in writing: incomplete work and fantasizing. I, as objectively as possible, attribute it to depression. Honestly, my depression is connected to my lacking career and debt. These two causes, of which I accept responsibility, have been sucking the life out of me. They are behind me, now, for the most part, so, I say, “welcome back, my old friends, reading and writing!”
I have finished a few books in the past couple of weeks. They are: Gardens of the Moon by Stephen Erikson, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Phillip K. Dick, and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Of course, Steinbeck takes the cake.
The Grapes of Wrath is very consequential to me in our time. I am really glad to have read it in this in-between phase I am living in right now. Unlike in the story, I am taken care of and not starving, thanks to my family, but the hard-times theme of the novel really hits me, and Steinbeck’s pen is perfect. There is not a single main character in the book, rather a family unit as a whole; and, who becomes the pillar of survival in the story? The women do, of course! The realism in the novel is bar none, totally believable and seamless. Steinbeck has a perfect way of putting his audience among the characters—nothing is left out. It is really magical how seamlessly Steinbeck is able to progress the story without losing time, without any area of lapse. The given details are all valuable and none of the book read as fortuitous. Steinbeck is a real master. I marked what I believe to be the best passage:
Ma frowned. “Rosasharn,” she said, “you stop pickin’ at yourself. You’re jest a-teasin’ yourself up to cry. I don’ know what’s come at you. Our folks ain’t never did that. They took what come to ’em dry-eyed. I bet it’s that Connie give you all them notions. He was jes’ too big for his overhalls.” And she said sternly, “Rosasharn, you’re jest one person, an’ they’s a lot of other folks. You get to your proper place. I knowed people built theirself up with sin till they figgered they was big mean shucks in the sight a the Lord.”
“No. Jes’ shut up an’ git to work. You ain’t big enough or mean enough to worry God much. An’ I’m gonna give you the back a my han’ if you don’ stop this pickin’ at yourself.” She swept the ashes into the fire hole and brushed the stones on its edge. She saw the committee coming along the road. “Git workin’,” she said. “Here’s the ladies comin’. Git a-workin’ now, so’s I can be proud.” She didn’t look again, but she was conscious of the approach of the committee.
Though the novel is chock full of importance, this passage says much to the effect of the whole of the novel. Ma will not let the family fall apart. Rose of Sharon, her young and impressionable, pregnant daughter serves such an important role in her family, Ma does not let her have a sick day at this important juncture in the story. Uncle John, Tom, Al, and, somewhat, Pa all have their days, days for breaks, but the women really never get a break. Relative to today, none of the Joad family is weak, meaning that in their time even starvation in America was widespread, death was easily a possibility, and pleasure was a rare gift. I feel lucky to have finished it at this time in the history of my life.