Like I said in my John Steinbeck Goal Check In, I have loved his work since high school. I totally recommend all of it, but of course I have to share my favorites.
Travels with Charley In Search of America
To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light—these were John Steinbeck’s goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years.
With Charley, his French poodle, Steinbeck drives the interstates and the country roads, dines with truckers, encounters bears at Yellowstone and old friends in San Francisco. Along the way he reflects on the American character, racial hostility, the particular form of American loneliness he finds almost everywhere, and the unexpected kindness of strangers.
I loved, loved, loved Travels with Charley. My senior quote came from it. I loved seeing a glimpse of America through John Steinbeck’s eyes.
Of Mice and Men
I know this is an anthology. The story that I am taking about is Of Mice and Men. They are all good, but Of Mice and Men is the standout.
They are an unlikely pair: George is “small and quick and dark of face”; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a “family,” clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation.
Laborers in California’s dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.
Of Mice and Men is shocking. I did not expect to be so blown away by it. It was the third Steinbeck book I read, and as always he blew away my expectations.
The Grapes of Wrath
First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California.
Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s powerful landmark novel is perhaps the most American of American Classics.
This was my first love when it comes to Steinbeck’s writing. At the time I read it I was not a fan of classics. It turns out I was just trying to read the wrong classics. I loved every bit of the story. It’s a must read.
So those are my favorites. Do you like Steinbeck? If so, what are you favorites?