As I mentioned here, I’ve been planning to read some John Steinbeck books.   I haven’t gotten to The Grapes of Wrath yet, but I recently read Of Mice and Men.  It’s very well-written, and effective at describing the scenes and characters. The first and last chapters especially do a good job painting an evocative scene for the reader.  The dialogue is also very good—Steinbeck captured rural, uneducated dialect convincingly while still making it flow naturally, so as to be readable.

The story itself is tragic, and indeed, I was duly depressed at the end of it.  But I couldn’t get past one thing about the tale: the vague undercurrent of misogyny. Curley’s wife—no name, just “Curley’s wife”—is treated as not really even a person.  By Steinbeck’s own admission, she is “not a person, she’s a symbol.” This dehumanization is quite evident in the book, and I found it rather disturbing.

There also is a heavy implication that her ultimate fate is her fault. I mean, who can blame her for flirting with the farm workers, considering what a jerk her husband is? And yet George, who is supposed to be a sympathetic character does blame her for it.  I can’t really decide if this is author’s perspective, or just the character’s perspective, though.

Steinbeck’s quote above notwithstanding, there is some attempt to humanize the character at the end, so it may be the point is just that the farm workers have misogynistic attitudes.  (Interestingly, I notice that the Of Mice and Men article on Wikipedia is in the category “misogyny”, even though no reason for this is given in the body of the article.)

However, it is still a very well-written and powerful  book.  I read that Steinbeck wrote it so that it could be either read as a novel or performed as a play.  That’s a very interesting idea, and I can definitely see how it could be easily adapted to the stage, although I don’t know if the quiet, melancholy nature scenes at the beginning and end could be translated to the stage effectively.

A few days ago, a friend of mine was recommending to me that I read some John Steinbeck books.  Then, a few days later, my blogger friend Thingy also mentioned him.  So, I guess I better get to it. I’ll try Grapes of Wrath, even though I admit the setting doesn’t appeal to me.

Another famous book I’ve never read is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which I see they have just adapted into a movie.  I’ll have to read it too at some point.  It’s also considered a great book.  It should make for an interesting contrast: Grapes is about poor Westerners in the 1930s, and Gatsby is about rich Easterners in the 1920s.

There are surprisingly many famous books that I have never read…  Moby-Dick, The Scarlet Letter, everything by Charles Dickens that isn’t A Christmas Carol. (Actually, I’m not even 100% sure I read that–I may have just absorbed by seeing the many thousands of adaptations.)

I did recently read Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  It wasn’t very good, to be honest.  It was very slow-moving and except for Dracula himself, most of the characters were thin as paper.  Add in that it was surprisingly violent for a Victorian novel, and I didn’t care for it at all.

UPDATE: Thank you for the award, Thingy.  (I still can’t comment on your blog, BTW, but I’m glad some comments are back.) Gone With The Wind is another one I want to read, even though I fully expect to hate it from what I know about it.  It’s what the critics like to call an “important” book, so I should probably  see what all the fuss is about.