And my love for Steinbeck grows! What a whirlwind of a book, vast and episodic yet focused and detailed. Set, mainly, in the ever changing hills of Salinas valley East of Eden is a novel that keeps your brain awake the entire time you read. In East of Eden Steinbeck plays out the age old battle, good vs. evil, over and over through the life of Adam Trask starting from his birth. Steinbeck deals with the fight of good vs. evil in the world in general and also the fight between good and bad that is within each individual person.
The battle is best represented in Adams son Cal. He observes the battles between light and dark in the world around him but has a difficult time facing them within himself. He feels stuck in the shadow of his brothers purity and perfection. Cal struggles with the idea that if you are bad you are all the way bad and his love for his brother blinds him to Aron’s shortcomings. Though it is not till the end of the book that Cal has a revelation and realizes that no one is purely good and he must learn this.
I have two quotes from this book that I wanted to share with you the first being:
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect you can be good.”
I will let you all read the book to find out the context of this quote but I think standing alone this quote says a lot about pressure that can be put on people. How people deal with being held up to a standard of perfection when there is not a single person on this earth that is perfect. Reading this quote reminds me that once I stop pressuring myself to be perfect at every aspect of my life, I can be good.
The second quote is:
“We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal.”
I love this quote for its final line “virtue is immortal”. It makes one feel as though even with the constant battle of good and evil going on inside of ourselves and in the world virtue will always prevail because it is immortal.
I was so excited to read this book as I had read reviews and heard that it was one of Steinbeck’s best. And now I cannot wait to re-read it and fill the margins with notes and comments, and to highlight all of my favorite quotes. This book is amazing to read for fun but was for me a great learning experience. I feel that by focusing on how the book was written as I read I was able to learn more and more about Steinbeck’s writing style.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is willing to take it on. It’s definitely a commitment as it is quite long, but I think if you do read it you will not be disappointed.
Driving Alone Early in the Morning
The frigid morning air has
Crept into my car, my frozen
Hands grip at the wheel.
Black coffee slides down
My throat, bitter it
Leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Fog blocks my path
So thick I could inhale it
And puff it back out in rings.
Light cuts through
The trees to my left
Bathing the world
Lately I had been dying for a good read, something to grab me, and pull me in. I needed a book that I missed when we were apart and couldn’t bear to put down for too long. Something that I could dive into and escape with. I wanted to remember my great love for reading and experience it again. Fate would have it that the book that would reignite my passion for reading would be none other than A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I feel that I had a stoke of luck in meeting this book, I heard of it in a passing conversation and was intrigued, but it wasn’t until I saw it sitting on my great grandmothers bookshelf that I decided I really wanted to read it. I saw it there, a beautiful old copy, red, or maybe green with pretty swirling letters, worn and well loved like most old books are and it had an effect on me, I felt strange pull towards it and decided that I wanted to get a my own copy. I purchased it off of Barnes and Noble, which is rare for me because all of my books are thrifted or hand me downs, but I just couldn’t wait for this one. It came in as a beautiful blue book that fit in my hands perfectly, with an untouched pristine look it was all mine. I am now so happy with my decision to purchase this because with my own copy I can share this book with sisters and friends as I feel it is a book most woman can connect with and understand.
A Tree Grow in Brooklyn is an emotional chronicle of girlhood that reminds one of the beautiful and honest way a child views the world. The novel follows the Nolan family and their lives in early 1900s Brooklyn New York. Francie is the eldest Nolan child and the central character of this novel. The family is led by the hardworking and sacrificial Katie Nolan, whose perseverance is an unwavering constant display throughout the novel. Katie’s husband is Johnny Nolan, one of those unfortunate souls who is born with an horrid imbalance of romanticism and common sense, despite his short comings the lessons that Francie learn from him become invaluable to her in life. Cornelius, Neely, is the brazen younger brother who embarks on many adventures with Francie. Through the lives of the Nolan’s Betty Smiths delves into subject matter such as, poverty, alcoholism and literacy vs. illiteracy. We see the whole family crave an escape from their life of poverty and the social class they see themselves in. One by one we see each member find and follow the path that brings them each their freedom but all by different means.
One of the reasons I identified so strongly with Francie, and I think many others feel this way as well, is her great love for learning. A strong pull in Francie’s life is education, she craves learning, reading and discovery especially through books. Francie’s attitude towards knowledge is really what connected me so deeply to this book, she not only wants to know but understand and experience life around her. These attributes make her a vivid and well loved character who I have added to my list of literary best friends.
I would like to leave you with one of my favorite moments in this book. I think this quote really exemplifies Francie’s character and what her goals and desires in life are.
““Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”
I am always inspired by the ocean. In every season the ocean is always fierce. During the winter it is loudly physically and visibly fierce. You watch it threaten and rear its beautiful white foaming head and crash upon the sand. It loudly proclaims I am a force. I am here and everywhere. It boasts of its beauty, scary terrifying beauty. In the cold stormy months you steer clear of the ocean because you know the powerful waters will take live and not think twice about it. But the warmer easier months are much much quieter. This is when the ocean really shows her finesse. You can lounge warm on the sand and watch the ocean up close gently lapping on the sand. You are entranced it is so big so blue and so very very welcoming. There is no hostility in the cool breeze that floats off the water and everyone seems to dance by the shore getting close but never to close. But what we all know in the back of our minds is that the ocean is silently fierce. It obtains the same force and terrifying beauty as before but know it is hidden behind the glare of the sun. The ocean she becomes this quietly strong seductress that we know only to avoid her based on our observations in the cold months when we she is showing all her cards. Yes I love the ocean, I love her when she is thrashing and spitting and being marvelous and disastrous, And I love her when she is understated and flat, playing as if she didn’t know her own power.
I’m Like This Mug.
Sitting alone at a small booth of a coffee shop, I sip black coffee. Its one of those places where they serve real food, but everyone who knows it just goes there to get coffee. It’s not even good coffee but people here still drink it. I was never sure why. I take another sip trying to taste anything good in the coffee. No, its like gas station coffee. The mug the waitress gave me is chipped. Smooth and rounded all along the edge until you get to the thumb sized hollow where a piece of the mug had been chipped off. I think about the missing piece of ceramic. Where did it go? Where is it now? How did it break off? I run my finger along the place where the piece used to be. Its dull, its been missing for a while so the mug doesn’t even remember it was there. Its forgotten so now it lives like its never even been broken. And when people come and sip from the mug it doesn’t use it’s empty spot to cut them the way it did when it first broke.
I sip again, this time I turn the cup so the chip is opposite me and when I tilt the cup to pour the coffee in my mouth I can watch the little hollow. I stare that little empty spot down watching it. Not sure if I am waiting for something to happen, but I watch it as my cup moves up and down, as I drink my coffee.
A song I used to know starts to play out of the cheap sound system of the coffee shop. Its a happy song, but it makes me sad. I look up as if the person I used to listen to that song with might be sitting across from me, putting more sugar than he needs in his coffee, grinning, and humming along to the song. But he’s not, he wouldn’t be, he couldn’t be.
“I’m chipped” I think turning my attention back to the mug. I lost a piece and its left a hollow spot in me. I don’t know if I can ever fill that empty place. I’m chipped. I’m not dull the way the mug is, not yet, I can still cut people. When they put their finger on that empty place, the place where the piece used to go, they get hurt. When they put their lips to my edge I cut them and they bleed.
I could learn from this mug. I could learn how to be dull so that people won’t get hurt by me. “How did you do it?” I think at the mug. “How did you forget you were missing a piece?”
I wish someone would come along and turn me, avoiding the sharp empty place. Drinking from me knowing I could cut them, but turning the sharp edge away from themselves. Give me the time I need to forget the missing piece and heal the empty spot. Give me time to become dull on my own.
I gulp my coffee until the cup is empty, its cold now, and for a moment I hold the cup in my two hands. “I’m like this mug.” I say quietly and to myself. Then I take the mug to the waitress counting her tips at the counter. “This is broken” I say as I set it down on the counter and walk out.