#20 The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

Cover of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck...

Spoiler alert: I am not a fan of Steinbeck.

Our very first encounter, back in 199OhGodI’mOld, was when my 5th grade class had to read The Red Pony. Here’s everything I remember about that waking nightmare:

  • It is 100 pages long, divided into four roughly equal chapters.
  • In Chapter One, the protagonist—a ten-year-old boy named Jody—receives a red pony.
  • The pony dies.
  • Jody spends the three remaining chapters whining, mostly about horses.
  • Eventually Jody gets another pony—a colt this time—because WHINING WORKS, KIDS. DO TRY THIS AT HOME.

But The Red Pony isn’t the reason we are gathered here today. That honor goes to The Grapes of Wrath (1939). May it Rest In Peace, after a painful, prolonged death, and may it be forgotten evermore. 

The Grapes of Wrath is the perfect book to leave on your nightstand and read only when you’re trying to put yourself to sleep. It’s a story about the most boring road trip by the most boring family in the history fiction of the U.S.A. It’s a story about how everything sucks, and just when you think it might stop sucking, it comes along and kicks you right in the suck. And then you default on your loans and die.

It’s also a story about how California may SEEM COOL, but it is actually NOT COOL, so do not fall for this. It is a TRICK.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time? 

Are you kidding? It’s like the longest game of Oregon Trail you ever played, back when there was nothing better to do. And right at the end when you think you’re going to win, you go bankrupt, your oxen drown, and you perish full of snakebites and dysentery.

Favorite Quotes:

Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold. And all of them were caught in something larger than themselves.

They fought over everything, and loved and needed the fighting.

The people in flight from the terror behind—strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.

If I was God, I’d kick their ass right outa heaven!

Ever’body’s askin’ that. ‘What we comin’ to?’ Seems to me we don’t never come to nothin’. Always on the way.

Read: 2005

#16 The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye

Does anyone NOT like this book? OK, fine, probably. But are they HUMAN?

The story is as bewilderingly simple, as straightforwardly complex, as its main character, Holden Caulfield. Holden’s style of narration reads like a stream-of-consciousness retelling of the weekend after he is kicked out of private school. Digressions abound, to the extent that he even shares an anecdote re: digression:

You could tell he was interested, so I told him a little bit about it. “It’s this course where each boy in class has to get up in class and make a speech. You know. Spontaneous and all. And if the boy digresses at all, you’re supposed to yell ‘Digression!’ at him as fast as you can.”

It should come as no surprise that Holden fails this speech class. But, as he himself points out, sometimes digression is entertaining AF—like when you get to hear about your classmate’s uncle’s polio. And when Homer Simpson says anything ever.

This book is also proof that if you want people to like your male protagonist, you should give him a dog or a younger sibling so he can show how affectionate he is toward dogs and younger siblings. Works every time.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time?

Is polio a laughing matter?

Favorite Quotes:

I don’t exactly know what I mean by that, but I mean it.

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was… Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.

I was trying to feel some kind of a good-by… I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place, I like to know I’m leaving it.

Read: 2005