Review of Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

First read: Before the list came out (about 1981)
Reviewed on: 8/14/98
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I did not like it.
I liked it.
I thought it one of the Best Novels of All Time

I read this one my junior year in high school. Like we did with The Great Gatsby, we saw the movie while we were still reading the book. This was hard to relate to, in that we were all white suburban kids from upper-middle-class backgrounds, but it was well written enough that we really were drawn into the story.

I remember Mrs. Dedrick's teaching style. She was opinionated as hell, but she didn't pretend that her opinions were "right" and that mine were "wrong." So class discussions were invariably interesting, because she brought her sincere point-of- view to class. Teachers who would always just say, "What do YOU think" were viewed as condescending, and teachers who would go with, "This is the TRUTH" were assholes. Mrs. Dedrick was, well, a teacher. And we loved her for it.

I had always associated Steinbeck with very sad stories. I hadn't read any Steinbeck, so I had no idea why, but it could be because I knew he was "literature" and that he wrote about poor people. So I was surprised that the Grapes of Wrath wasn't overly sad. I recall the family eventually doing okay for themselves, getting jobs, etc. Maybe I'm making a fool of myself, remembering the book all wrong. But I remember reading it and being engrossed and surprised that I wasn't reading a catalog of misery. I was reading a story about people.

I also remember singing "I've never eaten those Grapes of Wrath" to the tune of the Rolling Stones' song "Beast of Burden," thinking I was a very clever fellow, and annoying the hell out of my friend Jackie.

I really liked Of Mice and Men. That was Steinbeck, right? I wish it was on the list; I have more to say about that one.

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