East of Eden is considered Steinbeck’s masterpiece, and rightly so. The story spans three generations, two families, and it meanders across the entire country finally settling in the familiar Salinas Valley. What is at heart in this story is relationships between fathers and sons, good and evil, and whether we as people have a choice in how our lives turn out or whether it is all decided before hand by fate or a deity. It’s a re-imagining of the story of Cain and Abel in Chapter 4 of Genesis. If you’re not familiar with the story it’s worth brushing up on before you begin to read this book.
Basically, Cain and Abel both give of their first fruits to god. God, however, like lamb better than vegetables (which is understandable) and favors Abel over Cain. Cain feels angry because he doesn’t understand why his gift is rejected whilst Abel’s is accepted. He eventually kills his brother and is then driven away out into the world with a mark given to him by god which will keep people from murdering him. This story, along with the creation story with Adam and Eve, has been seen as absolutely the truth for ages and has also been used to validate the slavery of Africans in the 19th Century. Africans were seen as the descedants of Cain and therefore it was ok according to the Bible to enslave them or segregate them, or discriminate against them etc. Never mind that his descendants would have died out in the flood.
Steinbeck is too good of a writer to fall into some simple trope like this however. He begins with Adam Trask’s childhood and how he is raised by his father and his relationship with his brother Charles. Then it follows as Adam marries Cathy and eventually has two sons Caleb and Aron. Throughout these three generations of Trask’s Steinbeck shows how similar the fathers and sons make similar choices and mistakes. He slowly interweaves, with the help of other characters like Samuel Hamilton (Steinbecks grandfather) and Adam’s servant Lee, the questions that are at the heart of the story. Are we doomed to failure and sin because of original sin? If so why bother try to be good? Shouldn’t a person just accept their fate and do whatever they wish?
In my interpretation of the story I believe that Steinbeck refuses to believe in original sin or any of that gobbledygook. Instead East of Eden is a reinterpretation of the Bible. He seems to be saying there’s no god out there directing my life and my choices in life are mine to make. Whether a person is good or bad is not decision of some deity but on the choices that person decides to make in life. Unlike most Steinbeck novels (life sucks and then you die) East of Eden ends on a note of hope. Easily one of the best novels I’ve ever read in my life and worthy of all the accolades that were heaped on it. On another note, this is the first book that I’ve ever digitally checked out from my local library and it’s another reason why I love my Kindle. Checking out books from the comfort of my home is about the best thing ever.
I really like Kurt Vonnegut and when he’s on he’s one of the best and funniest satirists. When he’s not on… well it gets to be tough to read. Slapstick is definitely one of those books where he pulls a Fonzy and jumps the shark. The novel is about a pair of twins (boy, girl) who are super geniuses but only when they are next to each other. They also have some weird maybe platonic maybe incestuous relationship. They also look like neanderthals and their family thinks they are retarded for the first 16 or so years of their life. The son ends up becoming the President of a declining US and ends up narrating the novel from a dilapidated Empire State Building in a mostly deserted New York City.
I found the novel weird, cumbersome, semi-boring, and not sharp or funny like some of his other novels. In the end the fact that it took me only a few hours to read made me stick through until the end. If it was a long novel I would’ve just moved on to something better. I found the introduction to be better than the actual novel so this book is definitely for Vonnegut über fans only.
Anyways I’m two books behind on my reviews, plus I have my new Blu-ray player to review and Star Wars Blu-ray. So stay tuned for a multitude of reviews plus my long developing post on religion.
- Once There Was a War
This year I was lucky enough to receive a Kindle for my birthday (thanks pheebs). I’ve been in love with it since then and have already bought a ton of books. I’ve found myself reading during virtually all my free time now, which I like. The first book I finished was Once There Was a War by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck is one of my all-time favorite authors and I feel like pretty much everything he does is phenomenal. He is always at his best, however, when he is describing the average man. This book is a compilation of his war correspondence during WWII. It’s a book I’ve always wanted to read but I could never find it in a book store and I’ve always been too lazy to order.
The book follows him as he arrives in England, then to Africa, and finally to Italy. Throughout he describes, in a way only Steinbeck can, the life of a soldier. He doesn’t concern himself with Generals and grand strategies but instead what it’s like living, training and then fighting, throughout the beginning of the war. Steinbeck even throws in some fake humorous stories that would’ve made Mark Twain proud. If you like history, journalism, or Steinbeck then this short book is worth the read.
I’ve been meaning to read Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, for years, and I have finally gotten around to it. I just finished it yesterday after reading it obsessively for the last few days. It has to be one of the funniest books I have ever read. I don’t even remember how many times someone stared at me because I was laughing uncontrollably on the subway, coffee shop, or walking down the street (yes this book was so good I often read it whilst walking down the street). There were more laugh out loud moments than most comedies. Besides being hilarious the book was also pretty deep. The book, for those that don’t know, is about bomber pilots in World War II. Invariably when you add war and death to a book it’s going to be deep; but Heller does it in a way that doesn’t get the reader depressed. The book has everything from an anti-war message to hilarious stories about Italian whores. If you are looking for a new book to read make it this one; and if you’re already reading a book make this one a priority to read next. There are a literally tons of great scenes in this book; unfortunately I couldn’t find my favorite online–I’m way too lazy to type it–so instead I will post one of the best that I could find online enjoy.