Read it at Last

It was around ninth grade that my father started to nudge me to read a wider variety of works. Maybe it was because I was showing interest in writing as a living or because he was just trying to do his job as a parent.

Regardless, he found me receptive and I can recall being allowed to sit in the Living Room (usually reserved for company), my over-sized headphones on and listening to the albums on the record player (yeah, I’m old — deal with it) as I worked through the recommended books.

I remember the very first book he recommended to me years before, Isaac Asimov’s Asimov’s Mysteries and since I liked it, was receptive to the suggestions that came now. Today, I don’t remember them all, but there had to have been five or six in total before I started finding things to read on my own.

Of those books, I liked Lord of the Flies and was utterly taken in with Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t go Home Again. On the other hand, I found Holden Caufield a complete asshole and waste of my time. (I enjoyed Salinger’s short stories better when I read them in 12th grade.)

Then there was the book I never finished. I started to read John Steibnbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath but after the early chapter that was little more than a turtle crossing the hot highway, I put it down, unable to comprehend how I’d ever suffer through something so slow.

I wasn’t ready, I guess. And I’ve never seen the movie either.

Every few years, as I was opening my Christmas presents, I’d find my copy of Grapes. It was Dad’s subtle way of saying I really should read it. And I’d put it back on my bookshelf and let it sit there.

He’s been gone a decade now, and a few years ago, Kate heard about this and decided to keep up the tradition.

On Sunday, I was looking for a book to read this week and saw it on the stack of To Be Read books and said, maybe it’s time.

I just finished the book this morning and liked it. Didn’t love it, won’t hail it as the greatest American novel ever written, but I saw what it was, appreciated its place in the books that sparked concern for social justice. The Joads and the people like them were let down first by society and then by the Government.

I appreciated how Steinbeck managed to convey feelings and emotions even though his characters were poorly educated and couldn’t even express themselves properly to one another. The Joads’ world was their farm and then their truck and the few places they stayed in while trying to work. It never occurred to any of them to appeal to local, state or federal representatives to help everyone. Never got discussed. Today, it seems natural as can be, but back then in the 1930s, during the Depression, thinking about work and food was the overwhelming factor.

I find many of the characters thinly formed and don’t appreciate how heavy-handed he was being by depicting everyone carrying a badge being a close-minded stooge of big business. That being said, Ma’s growth and evolution is more fascinating to me than anything that happened to the others.

I’m glad I finally read it, pleased I finally honored one of Dad’s wishes.

4 comments

  • I still haven’t read Grapes of Wrath, but I do intend to, one of these days.

    The book that my father kept wanting me to read was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. I did read that before he died. He also kept wanting me to see the film Things to Come. When I finally did, I had to keep reminding myself why Dad had thought so highly of it, as when he saw it the film was brand new and he was only ten years old.

  • Nomi S. Burstein

    I read Grapes of Wrath in 10th grade. I remember it being a slow read, but I did appreciate it for what it was, even at the age I was. I also remember my teacher constantly pointing out the Christ imagery in the book (up to and including the turtle). It stayed with me because it was an Orthodox Jewish school, and for many of my classmates, this book was their first exposure to the idea of Christ imagery in literature.

  • I’m a huge fan of Steinbeck, so I’m disappointed you didn’t like THE GRAPES OF WRATH as much as I did.

    One thing to remember is that you can’t read it with a 2005 perspective. You have to remember the era. Of course nobody looked to the government for help — there was no such concept before FDR. As for the “thin” characters, remember, too, that they’re partly allegorical. And such characters are accessible, too.

    Then again, having now read it, you can be aware that the diaspora out of New Orleans is going to be very much like the one out of the Dust Bowl. And that means that people are eventually going to be very unhappy with the folks who move into their neighborhoods.

    You mention the film — the film purposely misses the point of the book. The film has a tacked-on speech at the end that’s uplifting and hopeful, not at all like Steinbeck’s. But it was the 30s and the studio insisted.

    And, of course, now I want to go and reread it.

    My own novel in the “I’ve-been-meaning-to-read-for-years” category is MOBY DICK. Actually, in 1980 I was halfway through it when I put it down for some reason and just never got back to it.

    And Saturday, when the spouse had me watching part of a cheesy JULES VERNE’S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND with Patrick Stewart and Kyle MacLachlen, I was reminded that I never really completely read 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. The book I’d been given as a kid had somehow been assembled something like 30 pages missing — right near the end.

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