Sunday, April 26, 2015

Book review: East of Eden: John Steinbeck

I've decided to write a review of books as I finish them. This was inspired by a friend. As was the inaugural book that I'm reviewing. I'm writing more for myself to remember than to explain or convince others so don't bother me about my writing. Kthanks.

East of Eden is huge and daunting. It was absolutely worth the time and effort because this book changed my life. The only other books I've had this type of reaction to were Just Kids, 100 Years of Solitude and On the Road. I don't know if this book cracked my brain open because of what it is or because the friend who recommended it has since died and was haunting my thoughts as I read. Either way my head hurt in a very pleasing way. Initially I thought Steinbeck could have pulled back on the details but as the story unfolds I could have had more details because I wanted to eat up ever moment of this story. The characters, all of them, kept my interest and Steinbeck's insight into the human psyche is spot on. The Cain and Abel metaphor gave me great insight into my own struggle to find favor in the world and made me feel a greater connection to the human condition. I was amazed that this book was written long before any DSM and yet its understanding of human behavior was spot on and better developed than some of the professionals I've worked with. This book helped me grieve and at the same time helped me parent. I am also very glad for that this book ends positively. I don't think I could handle the stress of it if it hadn't.

Timshel. Thou mayest.

Here are the parts that remind me of what I most love in this novel:

On the difference between greatness and mediocrity: "I believe when you come to that responsibility the hugeness and you are alone to make your choice. On one side you have warmth and companionship and sweet understanding, and on the other-cold, lonely greatness. There you make your choice."

"There's a capacity for appetite," Samuel said, "that a whole heaven and earth of cake can't satisfy."

On the affairs of children: "do you think the thoughts of people suddenly become important at a given age? Do you have sharper feelings or clearer thoughts now than when you were ten? Do you see as well, hear as well, taste as vitally? It's one of the great fallacies, it seems to me," said Lee, "that time gives much of anything but years and sadness to a man...and memory. Without that, time would be unarmed against us."

A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: was it good or was it evil? Have I done well- or ill?... In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted shortcuts to love. When a man comes to die, no matter what his talents and influence and genius, if he dies unloved his life must be a failure to him and his dying a cold horror."

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