Today is John Steinbeck’s birthday, and there’s a wonderful Google Doodle to celebrate it.
Beautifully illustrated, the Doodle’s slideshow format highlights quotes from his famous works, including The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, and Travels with Charley.
Born on February 27, 1902, Steinbeck authored 27 books, which included fiction novels, non-fiction novels, and short story collections. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Grapes of Wrath in 1940 and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, just six years before his death at the age of 68.
For those of you who never sat through a high school English class, Steinbeck is almost required reading at this point. Most freshman English classes read Of Mice and Men except, of course, mine.
My 9th grade honors English class was instead forced to tackle The Grapes of Wrath, which is a behemoth of a novel. With upwards of 600 pages and long-winded descriptions, the novel—which was set during the Great Depression—was not a favorite among my class, nor was it a favorite of mine. (Confession: I probably skimmed about 100 or so pages).
In fact, one of the most vivid memories I have of reading that book is Steinbeck describing a character killing a grasshopper. The scene is forgettable at best except that the description dragged on for about four pages (maybe even more).
Now, I’m not trying to slight Steinbeck. I haven’t read enough of his work to dismiss him as an author. Actually, it’s been a goal of mine to read more of his writing especially Of Mice and Men (because I was denied that American high school rite of passage) and East of Eden (because I’ve heard it’s unbelievably beautiful).
Honestly, this post kind of derailed. I started writing because I thought the Google Doodle was lovely, but it sort of morphed into a “How Haven’t You Read That Yet?” type of post (you can find out more about that column in my About section).
What I will say is I’d like to read more Steinbeck and reread The Grapes of Wrath because I think I’ll appreciate him more. Six hundred pages of American realism doesn’t seem as daunting now. I think Steinbeck will be a lot more accessible to me now than he was at 14.
I guess I just want full disclosure on the blog that I haven’t read every contemporary or canonical author. There’s no shame in admitting there are books you haven’t read even though it seems everyone else has. Even the most well-read person on the planet will miss out on wonderful books, which is paradoxically hopeful and despondent. There will always be an amazing book left unread, but there will be so many wonderful ones that make their way into your hands.
Anyway, Happy Birthday, John Steinbeck! Here’s to another year of (hopefully) reading your writing.