I was reminded of his birthday by a short piece in Literary Hub which reprinted extracts from the original reviews of his major books. For example, 1937’s Of Mice and Men elicited the following:
“John Steinbeck is no mere virtuoso in the art of story telling; but he is one. Whether he writes about the amiable outcasts of Tortilla Flat or about the grim strikers of In Dubious Battle, he tells a story. Of Mice and Men is a thriller, a gripping tale running to novelette length that you will not set down until it is finished.”
Two years later, Malcolm Cowley reviewed Grapes of Wrath, the third in his Dustbowl Trilogy:
“The author now has a thesis—that the migrants will unite and overthrow their oppressors—and he wants to argue, as if he weren’t quite sure of it himself … Yet one soon forgets the faults of the story. What one remembers most of all is Steinbeck’s sympathy for the migrants—not pity, for that would mean he was putting himself above them; not love, for that would blind him to their faults, but rather a deep fellow feeling.”
This week I happen to be reading No Tine To Spare, a collection of short essays and blog posts by Ursula K. LeGuin. In it, she devotes one chapter to Grapes of Wrath. The essay is about the damaged concept of The Great American Novel, which many critics claim Grapes of Wrath to be. LeGuin says it is better than that. It is, she says, “the most truly American book,” adding “A book that makes me cry the way music can or tragedy can … must have something of greatness about it.”
For me, as a politicized teenager and already a Wobbly supporter, it was In Dubious Battle that spoke to me, Not the most polished writing but perhaps his dramatic story of the strike is all the better for that. It was Barrack Obama’s favourite book by Steinbeck, too, apparently.
Hollywood seems to be wallowing in remakes these days. They could do worse than take another shot at “Grapes of Wrath“, “Of Mice and Men“, or “East of Eden“.
A new analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Pew Research is illuminating changes in time usage by North American teenagers.
The Pew research notes:
“Teens now enjoy more than five and a half hours of leisure a day (5 hours, 44 minutes). The biggest chunk of teens’ daily leisure time is spent on screens: 3 hours and 4 minutes on average. This figure, which can include time spent gaming, surfing the web, watching videos and watching TV, has held steady over the past decade. On weekends, screen time increases to almost four hours a day (3 hours, 53 minutes), and on weekdays teens are spending 2 hours and 44 minutes on screens …
Over the past decade, the time spent socializing – including attending parties, extracurriculars, sporting or other entertainment events as well as spending time with others in person or on the phone – has dropped by 16 minutes, to 1 hour and 13 minutes a day.”
The report also illustrates differences between girls and boys:
Perhaps more important than the actual time differences are differences in attitude:
” the way boys and girls feel about their day also differs in some key ways. A new survey by Pew Research Center of teens ages 13 to 17 finds that 36% of girls say they feel tense or nervous about their day every or almost every day; 23% of boys say the same. At the same time, girls are more likely than boys to say they get excited daily or almost daily by something they study in school (33% vs. 21%). And while similar shares of boys and girls say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades, be involved in extracurricular activities or fit in socially, girls are more likely than boys to say they face a lot of pressure to look good (35% vs. 23%).”
A useful study, I think.