Bedtime Reviews: Steinbeck’s Unreadable Book

Bedtime Reviews - John Steinbeck

I have noticed that when it comes to novels, there are five types of classics:

  • Novels I have read and loved
  • Novels I have read and hated
  • Novels I will be reading
  • Novels I will never read
  • Novels I could not finish reading

Tonight, as I am not able to read or sleep, I will sit and write about the fifth type of ‘classic novels’ – the ones that I could not finish reading.

Why am I really writing this?
Because I feel guilty. I am constantly haunted by the characters whose stories I have abandoned. What kind of a reader am I if I cannot consume an acknowledged work of art? And this makes me want to ask: is great literature great for all?

I don’t know.
I don’t have answers.

The book that I’ve been trying to read (intermittently) for the last three or so months is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It’s a Penguin edition, about 700 pages, and so far I have read 209 pages. The problem is that every time I read around 15 pages I can no longer go on.

“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” – Samuel Beckett.

Nonetheless, every week or so, I try again. I read 15 pages, sometimes 20, sometimes 30, and then I stop. I don’t understand why East of Eden is such an unreadable book. It’s not like it’s Milton or Dante. I have read worse books (The Great Gatsby, for instance), and I have not suffered as much as I am suffering with East of Eden. What confuses me most, however, is that there’s nothing that turns me off in the book. On the contrary, Steinbeck is brilliant and I have read and loved many of his other works.

I do not understand. This is supposed to be Steinbeck’s magnum opus, but hell… I don’t know. I guess it would be better if I stop whining and close the book forever. Hmm…

I suppose great literature is great for all, but unreadable for some. Maybe. But it’s too late in the night to confirm it. Here comes the sandman…

But before I bury the book and go to sleep, I feel like I must share some of my favorite sentences from East of Eden, so here they are:

A man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange.

Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.

I don’t know where being a servant came into disrepute. It is the refuge of a philosopher, the food of the lazy, and, properly carried out, it is a position of power, even of love.

“I’ll want to hear,” Samuel said. “I eat stories like grapes.”

Goodnight.

Fragments from October 2017

Fragment 1:
It is the fear of death that drives
me to squeeze the ink out of this pen;
otherwise, I would not be here
writing in a crowded coffee shop.
(It is very unusual for a man to die
in a coffee shop.)
I’ve been coming here to write
as often as I can.
The waitress knows my name.

Fragment 2:
The first sentence I ever wrote
(without being told to write)
was a secret and a silent declaration
in blue.
A childish sentence on a piece of paper
composed of three words.
I hid it under the mattress.
I was thirteen or fourteen years old.

Why I wrote “I love N—-”
on that silly piece of paper
with a fountain pen
I must go back in time to find out.