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Thoughts and an excerpt from East of Eden by John Steinbeck

So I’m reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I read it when I was 13 years old in middle school and at that time, I remember it as a continous puzzlement of mentally pleading to the characters, “Noooo, don’t do that!” over and over again. I felt like everybody in the book was a slow moving train wreck and when I finished it, I felt “bothered” by it but wasn’t sure how. It felt like a Grimm’s fairy tale with no happy ending. I didn’t understand how people worked (and probably still don’t; see: autism) in the book and couldn’t compare it to real life because no one acted that way in my small 13 year old world. I realize now that no 13 or 14 year old would “get” it, not in a “been there” way.  I believe there is a time to read certain things (but I wouldn’t forbid anyone reading, though).

I’d recommend reading East of Eden with at least 30 years’ of life experience. Reading this book in my 40s is another thing entirely. Now, I feel like I understand it. And I wonder if all the women in Steinbeck’s life were “suspicious of fun”, “had no spark of humor and only occasionally a blade of cutting wit”, “a pale inside-herself woman” on which “no open laughter raised the corners of her mouth”. We haven’t even gotten to Cathy yet. I’m on page 132, and I don’t remember what happens next. I’m hoping there is a woman that isn’t miserable or evil or drab, a woman with strength, personality, joy, openness, warmth, and a moral compass. I want to tell Steinbeck that women can have all of those qualities and it wouldn’t threaten anyone’s masculinity, but this could be the 2020s talking to the 1950s. Anyways…

This is a beautiful and introspective book at times. The writing is snappy, flavorful, and sensory. The language is nowhere near as hard as Ulysses (I’m still working through that one). It’s very palatable if one wants a see a master of description at work. The setting and the characters are drawn so well that I can sense their essence. What really is worth reading are the small sections of… Ponderance?

There are sentences that I do agree with and ones I don’t. But I just had to share this whole section – I have no recollection of reading this in middle school; it probably went over my head – but now these are my favorite parts.

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