Sunday, April 06, 2014

The 13 best John Steinbeck books

Susan Shillinglaw is professor of English at San Jose State, former director of the SJSU Steinbeck Center, Scholar in Residence at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, and author of the recently published On Reading “The Grapes of Wrath” (Penguin 2014) and Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage (Nevada, 2013).

One title from her list of the thirteen best John Steinbeck books, as shared at Publishers Weekly:
The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Clamors for top billing in this group, but it’s to be savored as the grand finale of Steinbeck’s labor trilogy. The novel earned plaudits immediately upon publication: a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award; brief mention in Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day” column (she defended the novel’s factual accuracy); and political recognition—the novel helped bring the La Follette committee to California to investigate migrant housing conditions. One of the three or four books in America that had a direct impact on social policy (consider also Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jungle, and Silent Spring—the one book that Steinbeck said he wished he had written). This novel endures because, with hand extended, Steinbeck invites readers to see the migrants as he saw them—people who had dignity and grace, who stepped forward with gritty will. Steinbeck writes with a grace and flexibility that masks the layers of suggestion he packs into it (five layers, he said).
Read about another book on the list.

The Grapes of Wrath also appears on Jill Boyd's list of five of the worst fictional characters to invite to Thanksgiving, a list of three of Ali Khamenei's favorite novels, Segun Afolabi's top 10 list of "on the move" books, Mark O'Connell's list of the ten best songs based on books, John Kerry's list of five books on progressivism, Stephen King's five best list of books on globalization, John Mullan's list of ten of the best pieces of fruit in literature, and Honor Blackman's six best books list. It is one of Frederic Raphael's top ten talkative novels.

--Marshal Zeringue