John Steinbeck published East of Eden in 1952, and considered it his best work. As a Nobel Prize winning novelist, his opinion has serious weight. The story covers two family histories in the Salinas Valley, which is a favorite location of Steinbeck. On that note, I tried to read Tortilla Flats years ago and couldn't get into it.
East of Eden, on the other hand, enthralled me the first time I read it (about ten years ago) and delighted me when I recently listened to the audiobook version. During the first few chapters, I started to wonder if I had changed as a reader during the last decade. I've certainly read more and studied the craft of writing with ever increasing intensity.
So how was round two of this classic novel?
At first I marveled at the amount of physical description and information dump. But then I'd say to myself, "This is Steinbeck! You loved this book the first time. Maybe the draconian rules of writing well don't always apply, especially for a literary great who clearly knew what he was doing."
Despite my proclivity for reading too much as a writer, I relaxed and enjoyed the show. I've only been to the Salinas Valley once, as a child--about the time I started writing, actually. Steinbeck brings the setting to life vividly, and though there is a lot of backstory and general information dumped into the description, it works.
Regardless, the first chapter is almost entirely description. Weird, huh?
After a time, the characters I remembered from the first time I read the book began to take the stage. Evil Cathy (Kate) Aimes, gullible Adam Trask, wise Samuel Hamilton, and my favorite, Lee the Chinese servant who raises Aron and Caleb, and Abra who loves Lee like a father and struggles to understand the brothers.
I loved this book the second time. I plan to read a lot more Steinbeck in the years to come.
Life is an adventure. I read to expand my horizons and write because I must.
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