Friday, November 16, 2012
Author: John Steinbeck
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir
Publisher: Penguin Books, 1990 (obviously written before that)
Read for: Fun
It is a well-known fact on this blog that I love John Steinbeck's East of Eden. When my friend Allison told me about this book, which consists of letters Steinbeck wrote on alternating pages with his manuscript for the novel, I knew I needed to get my hands on it. I wasn't sorry that I did -- Journal of a Novel gave me great insights into both East of Eden and John Steinbeck himself.
One of the first things I noticed was that, despite the fact that the letters Steinbeck wrote were just warm-ups for his daily novel writing, he still writes so well. His writing style has always been incredibly poignant and powerful for me, and that didn't change in the unpolished East of Eden letters.
I also loved having Steinbeck's thoughts about his own characters. For example, the Hamilton family, who are juxtaposed against the main characters the Trasks throughout the novel. I assumed the Hamiltons were at least partially inspired by people from Steinbeck's life, as he referenced his own mother a few times, but I assumed that they were mostly fictional. From Journal of a Novel, I learned that almost everything about them in the novel (aside from their interactions with fictional characters) was true. I also enjoyed reading Steinbeck's reasons for including the Hamiltons in the novel, as well as his reasons for many other of the decisions he made with the novel.
I think my favorite part, however, was getting to know Steinbeck better as an individual. I loved some of his little observations on life, his obsession with having the perfect pencil (and thus needing his electric pencil sharpener to always be in perfect working order), his desire to constantly be inventing and carving things. In many ways I felt that Steinbeck was a kindred spirit for me, such as his descriptions of the way things of the heart are unknowable to other people (something he explored quite a bit in The Winter of Our Discontent) and his complete and utter inability to relax (me too, Steinbeck! me too!). Having that added insight into his personality will, I think, help me to appreciate his work even more.
Anyone who has read East of Eden and wants to explore it further will benefit from Journal of a Novel. It will also bring great insight into (in my opinion) America's great author. Journal of a Novel was a fascinating journey into Steinbeck's mind and the background of East of Eden.
Warnings: Mild language, spoilers for East of Eden (obvs)