I am in town for Father’s Day and thus taking a moment to scribble on my computer, having spent the past few days happily bobbing in a pool. Taking care of friends’ houses in their absence is such a chore, let me tell you. Working backwards!
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a novella about the bond between two men, Lennie and George, who are traveling throughout the west in search of work. George is a smaller, cunning, and ambitious while Lenny is….not. He’s a huge fellow, slow of thought, who has a fondness for small creatures which inevitably die under his petting because he doesn’t know his own strength. Lenny’s lack of understanding and abundance of strength have gotten the pair into trouble time and again, but they stick to one another because they’re the only person the other has — and that makes them unique in a world of wandering workers who slave away for a boss and then lose everything in the lotto halls and whorehouses. Unfortunately for both, the events of Of Mice and Men will sunder that bond. Given that East of Eden also played with the bonds between men (brothers, in that case), I wonder if it wasn’t a special interest for Steinbeck. The story is tragic in its ending.
J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye was a revisit for me. I read it in high school as a class assignment, but couldn’t remember a thing about it other than a hooker in an elevator. For those who have somehow not heard of it, Catcher is a first-person novel following a troubled young man whose mental issues have seen him kicked out of school after school, who is lonely and jaded by the world, contemptuous of its many ‘phonies’. I found Holden far more sympathetic now than I did as a teenager, interestingly, perhaps because then I’d yet to encounter any dark nights of the soul. Holden’s teacher’s remarks to him were particularly insightful now, I thought.
Possum Living is a book like few others, written by a teenage girl who dropped out of school after seventh grade and lived with her father in a house outside of Philadelphia. “Dolly” and her father have more or less adopted out of society entirely, raising most of their own food (through their garden and kept chickens/rabbits). They participate in the money economy only rarely, Dolly’s father taking odd jobs in the winter to have something to do and take care of unavoidable expenses like property taxes and supplies that are too expensive or cumbersome for them to produce on their own. The book is replete with advice on how to live frugally, either by cutting out expenses (automobiles, insurance) entirely or choosing foodstuffs/supplies that offer more bang for the buck. Although information on costs and such is of course badly dated at this point (it was written in the 1970s), the book is wildly entertaining because Dolly is basically Idgie Threadgoode, with a lot of sass.
Related to this was Low Cost Living Notes, created by Jim Stumm, which had data then relevant for the 1980s. Unlike Dolly’s, it has no narrative (or attitude), and exists purely of advice and data on minimizing household expenses. I found both of these in connection to vonu.
Still unreviewed: Return of the Primitive by Ayn Rand, which I’d rather not short-change.
Currently reading…Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, Joel Salatin; Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, Joseph Pearce; and D-Day Girls, allegedly. (This one is somewhere in my travel bag…)
I think the fact the Steinbeck was a hard drinking womanizer affected his outlook on life and especially on women, which is a little mysogonistic. For some reason I still like his short stories. His novels are too preachy.
I haven’t read Catcher in the Rye in years, but Holoden reminded me of a friend in college who was too narcissistic to be self aware. It was always everyone else who had something wrong with them.
Never read the last one. I’m always jealous of young people who can write so well and get published.
Possibly — I’ve never read a full treatment of his life. “Dolly” was vigilant about finding a publisher, according to an interview I’ve read with her….she had to approached numerous firms before she found one that would take her seriously!
The Steinbeck and Salinger are both great books that I’ve read and reread as I like both authors. Steinbeck’s is, however, not one of my favorites in the way the Eat of Eden is.
In the Salinger book I love the early ironic commentary on reading, when we learn that Holden is a reader, and quite an eclectic reader in spite of his own somewhat contradictory assessment: “I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot.”
I am not familiar with the last book in your “clump”.
Holden is a fascinating character; it’s hard to know what parts of his narrative to take for fact, and which ones just to accept that he’s trying to say something about himself without it necessarily being true.
The last book is fairly obscure — I found it somewhere on the Vonu Podcast website, I think.