The Grapes of Wrath Part I: Oregon Trail without the Dysentery

#3 The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged:
Banned by the St. Louis, Missouri public library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used.  The library ordered three copies to be burned.  It has also been challenged for its portrayals of California farmers, the poor and the working class.
My Rating: 12 Joads a Moving

For The Grapes of Wrath — and any other larger books I’ll be reading — I will break up blog posts.  So here is Part I, the first 250 pages of The Grapes of Wrath.

I have never read John Steinbeck before.  I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.  For the summer of my sophomore year of high school, I was supposed to read East of Eden, but I knew that I would be moving from Connecticut to Illinois.  Thus meaning I would start at a new school, and not have to read it.  But I did try.  I was at my Uconn basketball camp with Geno Auriemma,  sitting on my bunk bed, I read the first page, understood nothing, and tossed it aside for the rest of the camp.

 But this is fun: on April 14, The Grapes of Wrath is celebrating its 75th anniversary!  NPR is even doing a bit of a social media book club with Monkey See for anyone and everyone who wants to read it too.  But that is neither here nor there.  I am here to talk about what I have read so far.  And so far, I can make the claim that the first half of The Grapes of Wrath is, drum roll please…

Really, really slow.

Okay, I went into reading this book totally blind.  I didn’t know what it was about, how long it really was, anything.  Even the book I have can’t tell me what it’s about.  (The copy I have from the library decided to place a big, white sticker on the middle of the back cover, blocking the summary of the book because, REASONS.)  And in case you don’t know, it’s about the Joad family from Oklahoma during the end of the 1930s.  For you non history buffs, this was toward the end of a massive drought that, combined with the Great Depression, left a huge chunk of Americans with no home, work, or food.  So the Joads — as well as everyone else in the Great Plains — pack up and move to Cali; the land of milk and honey.

While reading, I found out that Steinbeck broke up his 30 chapters in 3 sections.  The first 10 chapters are about the Joad clan still living in Oklahoma, getting ready to go to California.  The second 10 are about their actual traveling to California, Oregon Trail style. And the last are of them actually in California.

Steinbeck also does this thing where every other chapter is poetic, and literary, and deep, and full of imagery, and just so boring.  I feel like I am going to be bombarded by Steinbeck fans telling me how I wouldn’t know a literary genius if he slapped me in the face poetically with his words.  But I just hate those chapters.  I understand their purpose; I just don’t care.  They’re supposed to juxtapose the Joad family’s experience with the fact that this was happening to everyone.  Steinbeck is able to discuss the effect the Dust Bowl and the Depression had on a large population of people, as well as familiarize the reader with one particular family’s struggles.

And what a family Steinbeck chose.  There are so many Joads.  Joads everywhere.  Here’s a Joad, there’s a Joad, everywhere a Joad, Joad. We have: Granpa Joad, the crazy old man who is running around swearing, drinking, and raising hell; Granma Joad, his wife who shot a shotgun at him once because he was disrespectful towards her;  Pa Joad, who constantly blames himself for Noah’s physical and even mental slowness; Ma Joad, the voice of reason and moral compass; Uncle John Joad, Pa’s older brother who is the strong and silent one.

There’s also Noah Joad, the eldest son who is kind of deformed because when Ma was giving birth to him, Pa panicked and started pulling and twisting his body, trying to get him out (Note to self, NEVER have Pa Joad try and deliver my children); Tom Joad, the second eldest son who just got out of jail for killing a guy — in self defence; Rose of Sharon Joad-Rivers, the oldest daughter who just got married to a guy named Connie and is pregnant; Connie Rivers, who is not really a Joad, but married into the family so he counts.

Al Joad is the mechanic of the family who went on a couple girl-chasing benders; Ruthie Joad is 12 and kind of ladylike, but not really; and finally, Winfield Joad, who is only ten, and a wild child that for the first 50 pages I thought was a girl because I kept reading his name as Weatherfield after reading  The Catcher in the Rye, and there were never any pronouns used for him.  It always just said “Ruthie and Winfield this,” or “Winfield and Ruthie that.”  He is, and I repeat, a boy.  Not a girl.  So yeah, there they all are. Got it?

There’s also Casey, the old preacher.  But he gave up preaching because he used to give his sermons and then take women behind the church and bang them in the grass and I guess he felt morally corrupt after that?  I mean, I guess that’s a good reason to give it up.  Anyway, now that the entire cast has been introduced, I can talk about the story a bit more.

Um, well, things are happening.  Tom gets paroled from prison on good behavior and bumps into Casey.  They both walk to Tom’s home to find it abandoned.  His family had to pick up and leave because the drought was making the land uncroppable.  So the banks who owned the land told the Joads to piss off so they could just knock everything down and plant cotton — even though it’s bad for the earth, I think?

Tom and Casey become buddies and walk to Uncle John’s.  They make it just a few days before the family leaves for California, and Casey is invited to come along with them.  He agrees to go, they then prepare by butchering some pigs for food for the trip.  Steinbeck goes step-by-step on how exactly one would slaughter and salt a pig and it is really graphic.  I mean, the pig slaughtering was the most interesting thing that happened.  I had to read about a stupid turtle trying to cross the road for a whole chapter and I was like, “Dear lord, kill me now.”  But the pig slaughtering was at least educational.

And then, when they’re about to go, Granpa is like, “Actually, no. Imma stay here, instead.”  The Joads are like in the car, ready to go.  It isn’t a minivan either.  It’s a jalopy with their entire lives on it, as well as 13 people!  That was the hardest thing for me to picture.  But Granpa decides that this is the perfect time to be a jerk.  So Ma decides to put Nyquil in his coffee and drugs him.  And he is pissed that they tricked him into going and pays them back by having a stroke and dying.

Yeah, that’ll teach them, gramps.  When they stop for the night, the Joads meet the Wilsons, a  husband and wife.  They see how sick Granpa is, allow him to sleep in their tent, and then he’s like, “Thanks, strangers.  I’m gonna die now.”  And then he just strokes out and dies.  What kind of thanks is that? Casey then says how Granpa and the land were one and how Granpa couldn’t leave his life behind.  What really bothers me with Steinbeck is that sometimes he puts some great symbolism in his work — like the interconnectedness of Granpa and the land — but then he goes and explains it.  Like, I get the symbolism, Steinbeck.  But you just ruined it by breaking it down for me.

The Wilsons’ car is broken, so Al and Tom fix it and then they hatch the plan to split all of their things together between the Joads and the Wilsons.  So now it’s a bit more comfortable and each car isn’t so crowded.  Everyone is happy, even though Granpa just died in their new friends’ tent, they had to bury him, and now Granma is acting all kookie and weird.   YAY, ROAD TRIPS!

Now, they are meeting people along the journey and some of them aren’t heading west, but leaving CaliforniaApparently, California isn’t as sweet as everyone says it is.  Ooooh, drama!  And the Joads are like, OMG, what are we gonna do if we can’t find jobs? and everyone is just bubbling over in antici…. ….pation.

And that’s how far I’ve gotten in The Grapes of Wrath.  TUNE IN NEXT TIME!  Will I be able to make it through another 250 pages?  Will there be any real action?  How are they all fitting in that small car?!  WAIT AND SEE!

How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?

Want to read along with me?
Check out the Banned Books Challenge page to see my progress!

The Catcher in the Rye: You Better Pay Attention

#2 The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged:
Since its publication, this title has been a favorite target of censors mostly due to language and content.  Recently, it was removed by a Dorchester District 2 school board member in  Summerville, SC (2001) because it “is a filthy, filthy book.”
My Rating: 4-time prep school dropout

Almost everyone has read this book.  And if not, they know who Holden Caulfield is at least.  I was first introduced to Holden’s outlook on life when I was in 8th grade.  I was thirteen, and stuck at a school where I didn’t get along with any of the girls, and was picked on by a lot of the boys.  This was the age where I thought I would piss off my Catholic school teachers by painting my nails black, experimenting with black eyeliner, getting my cartilage pierced, and listening to Blink 182 and Good Charlotte.  But I also played soccer full-time and basketball during the winter.  So I was a punk-jock girl?  Yeah, I was that girl in middle school.

Anyway, The Catcher in the Rye was a big deal for me.  I — as well as every other “misunderstood” teenager — felt this connection with Holden.  And the fact that he just swore the whole goddam time was amazing.  I couldn’t believe we were being allowed to read it in school.  I devoured it in days, as if our school would suddenly notice what we were reading and take it away.  I also discovered something about myself: I wanted to be a writer.  J.D. Salinger made it seem so easy to do.  Holden’s tone was effortless and personal.  He sounded like a friend.  Like someone who got what I was going through.  The Catcher in the Rye is, and always will be, a very special book for me.

After reading it a few more times since then, I noticed certain little tidbits I had missed before.  Maybe I was too young, or unobservant.  But you have to understand that The Catcher in the Rye isn’t just a book about a whiny sixteen-year-old prep school kid.

1. Holden’s Hat — The red hunting hat is a staple for any Holden fan.  And I can go into the symbolism of it, talking about it being his individuality and inability to connect to his peers, and when Phoebe puts in on his head at the end she is accepting him, but that’s boring and you should know all that already.  But what many people either don’t realize, or ignore is that he liked wearing it backwards (And like, Holden wants to “catch” any kid that gets too close to the adulthood-cliff and a catcher in baseball wears his cap backwards and Allie had a baseball glove with poetry in it and just, BASEBALL!).

The way I wore it, I swung the old peak way around to the back — very corny, I’ll admit, but I liked it that way. I looked good in it that way. 

It was like a goddam light bulb went off in my head when I figured this out.  I don’t know why I was so proud of myself for this discovery, but I was, so deal with it.

2. Comin’ Thro’ the Rye — Not many people actually look up the the Robert Burns poem/song Holden mishears a little boy singing.  I find this to be a bit odd, considering it’s what essentially gives the book its title.  I’ll be honest, when I first read it, I didn’t think much of it.  And the second and third time I did, I thought, Wow, I really need to look up the original poem and then probably forgot about it later.

“Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” is a common 18th century Scottish children’s song, but the poem is actually quite sexual.  Which further intensifies Holden’s desire to help children keep their innocence.  The fact that Holden heard a little kid singing this explicit song is just so incredible.  The whole issue Holden has in The Catcher in the Rye is his desire to keep childhood innocence intact.  Many of the issues he faces are with him growing up and moving towards adulthood, or how children are sometimes forced to leave their innocence behind.  I like to see him as a more modern-day Peter Pan with a goddam language problem.  Below, are two versions of Burns’ poem.  The first is more playful, with a whimsical sound.  The second hones in on the sexual content of the work.


3. Holden’s Health — If you actually pay attention to Holden’s thoughts and behavior, you would realize that he isn’t just an angsty teenager.  He’s constantly feeling hopeless, and describes himself feeling lousy.  Sometimes he would openly start crying, especially at very emotionally low moments.  He can never focus on what he is saying, and repeats some stories or jumps from one subject to the next with no reason.  He is irritable and intolerant towards others — “Sleep tight, ya morons!” — and has no drive to do anything.

Holden is really suffering from some deep-seeded depression.  And it’s quite easy to see where it stems from: his ten-year-old brother, Allie, dying of leukemia.  Although it was three years from the book’s timeline, it’s obviously affecting Holden.  He talks to his brother by either having old conversations with him that he wishes he could have changed, or asking Allie to make sure he doesn’t disappear.  But what I completely missed was that at the end of the book, Holden was in a psych ward for a mental breakdown.  I was so oblivious the first time I read it.  I mean, come on.  It’s mentioned on the first page of the book:

I’m not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything.  I’ll just tell you about the madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy.

The main thing I love about The Catcher in the Rye is what Holden says about constantly going to the museum.  Nothing inside it ever changes, but you do.  That’s how I feel about The Catcher in the Rye.  The words never change.  They tell the same story.  But I am a little bit older, a little bit more experienced, a little bit changed.  The meaning evolves with me.  When I first read it, I saw it as a, “Yeah, tell everyone to fuck off!” kind of read.  But then, the older I became, the more I saw Holden’s cracks.  His issues.  His insecurities.  And that’s what makes The Catcher in the Rye an amazing book.

Then the carousel started, and I watched her go round and round…All the kids tried to grab for the gold ring, and so was old Phoebe, and I was sort of afraid she’s fall off the goddam horse, but I didn’t say or do anything. The thing with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, and not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but it is bad to say anything to them.

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Single Lady’s Valentine’s Day

Next week is Valentine’s Day and you know what, I am completely okay with that.  When I was a young, naive 16-18 year old, I hated this holiday.  Cue the Liz Lemon rant about Valentine’s Day being a Hallmark holiday made to make women feel miserable when not with someone and put high expectations on men to be more romantic than Tom Hanks in a 90s rom-com.  Blah, blah, blah.  Rant, rant, rant.  Yeah, that’s how I was.  I was horrid to be around.

And here’s a fun fact: we have Esther A. Howland in the 1840s to thank for the commericalization of Valentine’s Day in the United States.  She received a Valentine’s Day card from a friend in England, liked it so much, and began printing off her own versions using her father’s printing press.

Yeah, sometimes Valentine’s Day can be the worst.  Walking around and seeing everyone being all lovey-dovey with more PDA on the streets than in a high school sexually-active band geek weekend retreat.  I don’t like seeing that crap any day, so Valentine’s Day really isn’t any exception to the rule.  I don’t like having to prove your love for someone else through gifts, expensive dinners, and maybe trying that one thing your significant other wants to try in the boudoir.

St. Valentine was a Roman who secretly married soldiers because the emperor banned marriage, arguing that it weakened the soldiers’ want to join his army.  But according to Christian myth when he was captured, Valentine’s jail-keeper’s blind daughter visited him often asking about God’s teachings.  In the end, Valentine taught her God’s word, gave her faith, and then God rewarded her with the gift of sight.  And on the day of his execution, Valentine wrote her a note telling her to keep God’s teachings close to her and signed it, “From your Valentine.”

I just gave a very generic and not at all exact history on Valentine’s Day, but it’s still something to consider.  It’s a religious holiday. So in theory, Valentine’s Day is not just for significant others to stick their tongues down each other’s throats.  It’s a day to tell friends and family that you love them, too.  And now that I am a mature, well-rounded 24-year-old, I can say that Valentine’s Day has its perks.  Whether you’re single or otherwise. 

1. Chocolate — I feel like I don’t really have to go into much more detail about this.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I love candy.  Any kind of candy.  Except Mike & Ike’s; that candy sucks.  If anyone gives you a box of them, immediately open it and begin throwing the hard-shelled black liquorice death bullets at their face.  Because if someone gives you Mike & Ike’s, let’s be honest, they obviously don’t care about you enough anyway.  But Valentine’s Day is the second holiday that puts an importance on chocolate. And that I can get behind.
BONUS ROUND:  February 15 is when all the leftover chocolate is on sale.  It’s like a Valentine from yourself!

2. Romantic Comedies — Valentine’s Day is the only day when it is perfectly acceptable for you to snuggle up and spend a date with Netflix, a bottle of white wine, and every romantic comedy you can possibly stream.  You know ABC Family or USA are playing rom-com marathons, giving you the opportunity to have your 13 Going On 30 Mark Ruffalo fix without ever feeling guilty.  A personal Valentine’s Day favorite of mine is The Proposal.  I am sorry, but Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds are perfect together and should sign an obligatory contract to co-star in at least one rom-com together a year.  Or be married in real life (piss off, Blake Lively). 

3. Valentine’s Day Cards — The best thing about this is that you don’t have to be dating someone to give them one.  It’s just an open appreciation of someone being in your life.  Every year, my mom mails me one and I love it.  It’s either really sappy or has a cat on it, further reinforcing my slippery slide into cat-ladydom.  But I don’t care.  Last year, I gave these gems of Valentine’s Day cards  and people LOVED them.  Because, duh, I know how to rock a holiday when I care enough about someone.  Anyway, getting and receiving a card is just such an awesome feeling that it doesn’t matter who it really is from.  Unless you get one of those fake Valentines’ Day cards from your dentist or eye doctor reminding you that you’re due for a check-up.  That’s how those bastards get you.

And although when you were younger and forced to give out Valentines to everyone in your class, when you’re older, you can choose who to give one to.  It’s so amazing!  It’s like blacklisting someone.  Like you’re a celebrity or something, with enough power to nix someone from your life.  REVENGE VALENTINES!

4. Wine — If all else fails, you always have this to fall back on.

2014-02-08 01_25_10 am

Whether your ex gets engaged, or posts pictures of their romantic night on the town, or moves in with their new significant other, wine’s your best friend.  Wine will never cheat on you.  But it can make you think it’s a good idea to call your ex and leave a very sloppy desperate voicemail.  So yeah, wine responsibly.  Or maybe make sure you “lose your phone” that night.

It’s An American Classic, Old Sport: The Great Gatsby

#1 The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Reasons For Being Banned/Challenged: 
Challenged at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC (1987) because of “language and sexual references in the book.”
My Rating: 2 judging eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg

I really like this idea of having a song go with each blog post, giving you a tiny playlist with each read.  So I hope you like them too, because this is going to be a regular thing.  I was also gonna play “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody,” but I just thought it was too soon (RIP Myrtle).

So I read this baby of a book — only about 100 pages — in high school.  I also got to watch the 2000 made-for-TV movie of it with Paul Rudd as Nick Carraway; so much better than Tobey Maguire.  When I read this classic in high school, I felt like it was a lot longer and a lot more awesome than I did the second time.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I still love F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby, but honestly, everyone in this book is just a dick.

But before I talk about that, lets talk about why it was challenged: sexual references.  Sexual references?  Really?  Not the overload of drinking and making bad decisions, the absolute disregard to marriage vows, or the murder?  Now, I don’t believe in banning/challenging books, but come on.  If you’re gonna push for a book to not be read, get a better reason.  Because there really aren’t any sexual references anywhere.  Okay, there is one.  But you can easily miss it if you are a high schooler and reading this (because honestly, you only read this book in high school too).

What’s the line?

[Gatsby] took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously — eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand.

Cool your jets, Scotty!  Kids can’t handle all that sex!  It’s so vivid and real.  All them kids there that be getting educated learning about the sex having in classic literature.  Damn Gatsby, falling in love with Daisy and then having sexual relations with that woman. Gatsby is a sexual fiend.  I can totally understand South Carolina’s disgust with it.

Anyway, as I stated earlier, I did not remember everyone being total dicks in The Great Gatsby.  I mean, everyone sucks.  The Jazz Age should be remembered as “Dickheads R Us” with Tom Buchanan as the mayor.  Honestly, how the hell does he get the audacity to be pissed at Gatsby for being in love with his wife while he has a secret love apartment with another woman?  And is also abusive?  Hi, yeah. Remember that part, kids?  He beat the shit out of Myrtle one time for saying Daisy’s name.

And Daisy.  What can I say about her?  Oh yeah, she’s the worst.  She’s a passive aggressive snob who thinks having old money makes her better than everyone else.  On top of that, she is officially the world’s worst driver. Hello, she killed a her husband’s mistress and simply drove away without stopping.  If that’s not a PSA against drinking and driving, I don’t know what is.

And Gatsby’s like, “It doesn’t matter, I still love her!  I’ll take the blame!  I love her.”  She also doesn’t have her priorities in check.  Do you remember that she has a daughter?  Because she sure as hell doesn’t.  And then when she does, she says stupid crap like this:

I’m glad it’s a girl.  And I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.

Very nice, Daisy.  Sending feminism back to the stone age with that line.  She is basically saying that women can do nothing but look beautiful and act stupid.  You go, girl!  And she just leaves Gatsby.  Without a care in the world.  I mean, sure, she didn’t know that he was murdered, but still.  If she loved him, she would have stayed.  When Tom was all, “Pack your bags, we’re Audi 5000,” she could have pulled a Bartleby and been like, “I prefer not to.”  And then gotten emaciated and died under a tree.  That’s how it should of ended.  Damn you, Fitzgerald! I don’t really understand what Gatsby loved so much about her.

He pined for her for five years.  He tried to make something of himself solely to be with her.  And she thanks him by marrying Tom the Dickhead.  Poor Gatsby.  The Great Gatsby is how Aladdin would have played out if it wasn’t made by Disney.  Poor boy falls in love with rich girl so he does whatever it takes to become rich and win her heart — be it becoming a bootlegger or getting a genie and magic lamp.

But that’s where these two stories fork.  Because Aladdin does get the girl and the money and to stay alive.  Poor Gatsby gets nothing.  He gets shot by his — get ready for this one — love’s husband’s mistress’ husband.  The first and only time Gatsby goes swimming, and he gets killed.  He gets nobody at his funeral after everybody mooched off him and his wild and crazy parties.  He gets the catchphrase “Old sport” and says it so many times that Tom actually shouts at him for it.

And Nick is the sassiest man of the 1920s.  He throws so much shade at everyone it’s hard to believe that he made any friends and got a girlfriend that one tragic summer. There were times where I outright laughed at his quick wit and sarcastic banter.  What made it better was that half the time, nobody else picked up on it and I pictured Nick just rolling his eyes in anguish.

But was Nick and Gatsby as good of friends as Nick says?  I don’t know.  He doesn’t see that Gatsby became friends with him to get to Daisy.  He never questions their friendship.  Plus, they’ve only been friends for three months.  Is that enough time for a guy to be like, “Gatsby’s story must be told!  And I’m the one to tell it!”?  He even says, “I disapproved of him from beginning to end.”  Thanks, best friend.  I’m taking my East Egg/West Egg friendship necklace back.

In the end, I do actually love this book.  It shows how money corrupts people, living in the past can ruin your life, and trying to change yourself to impress others won’t make you happier.  Fitzgerald took his era and revealed its flaws.  He took the American Dream and dissected it.  It is a masterpiece.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning —

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

tumblr_mmx6t7Pw8c1qm44gao1_r1_1280Want to read along with me?
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