I sometimes scratch my head when I hear someone say they aren’t a ‘reader’. The thought of reading a whole novel overwhelms them. They don’t understand why anyone would ‘waste’ their time reading.
I still remember the first novel I read that caused that spark that turned into a life-long love affair with the written word. It wasn’t a classic. It wasn’t literature. It was a book by Dean Koontz called The Bad Place. I’ve reread it a couple of times and it still scares me.
But it made me feel something else too. It captured my imagination. It made me want to create something like it.
I’ve read other books since that have placed their mark on me – mostly by Stephen King. But every once in a while I come across other authors who have the power to move me. Who I think have something important enough to say that I must share it with you.
One of those is John Steinbeck. I know, I know, I’m a little late to the party. I also know that his personal life was a mess and he wasn’t a role model by any means. I would like to argue, though, that our favorite characters – in books, movies, television – are those we love to hate. Those who are deeply flawed and therefore someone with whom we can relate. And who better than a deeply flawed person to create those characters?
I’m not condoning his life or his behavior. I just think this illustrates why it is important for us to learn to separate a person from his or her work. Even if the person is a saint doesn’t mean we will like them personally. But we can still appreciate their work.
I specifically want to talk about East of Eden. I was in the library a month or so ago looking for something to read. I usually look at the shelf of new releases but occasionally I like to look at the rest of the books to see if I can find something I missed.
I found East of Eden. Or maybe it found me. Either way it was such a timely story that it took my breath away. Now I understand why some people are true students of history. There is a valuable lesson to be learned if we can look back and find similarities. If we can objectively study what went wrong and admit we may be going down the same path. If we can set aside our hubris long enough to correct the course.
Both on a personal and national level.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I started this book. I had never read any of Steinbeck’s work previously which seems odd to me now, but given my strict religious upbringing I guess I can see how my parents shielded me from works like his. The longer I live the more I understand that some believe creative thought is the enemy of religious thought.
Creative thought causes us to question, explore and I think that frightens most religious people because deep down they doubt if their beliefs can stand up to such an inquiry. What’s funny is that the more I questioned, the more I explored the more deeply I held my beliefs even if they changed.
We shouldn’t be afraid of creative thought even if we disagree with it. Even if we can’t stand the person who had the creative thought. It is all part of separating everyone’s who from their do. Even in our imperfection we are capable of greatness.
So if you’ve never read East of Eden I highly recommend that you do. I will leave you with one of my favorite passages from the book and then you can decide whether or not you agree that Steinbeck’s creative thought, though flawed, was ahead of its time.
It wasn’t very long until all the land in the barren hills near King City and San Ardo was taken up, and ragged families were scattered through the hills, trying their best to scratch a living from the thin flinty soil. They and the coyotes lived clever, despairing, submarginal lives. They landed with no money, no equipment, no tools, no credit, and particularly with no knowledge of the new country and no technique for using it. I don’t know whether it was divine stupidity or a great faith that let them do it. Surely such venture is nearly gone from the world. And the families did survive and grow. They had a tool or a weapon that is also nearly gone, or perhaps it is only dormant for a while. It is argued that because they believed thoroughly in a just, moral God they could put their faith there and let the smaller securities take care of themselves. But I think that because they trusted themselves and respected themselves as individuals, because they knew beyond a doubt that they were valuable and potentially moral units – because of this they could give God their own courage and dignity and then receive it back. Such things have disappeared perhaps because men do not trust themselves any more, and when that happens there is nothing left expect perhaps to find some strong sure man, even though he may be wrong, and to dangle from his coattails.
East of Eden, John Steinbeck