Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Social Realism in Literature: In Defense of Steinbeck

So the one book I've managed to read this month (which you'll get an update on later) is East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.  It's a big book and I had a busy month, which is why you're only getting one.  In fairness, if I wanted to, I could probably finish it in a few days, but that involves doing nothing but reading and while I'd love to have the time for that, my life* got in the way and said "HEY WHAT ARE YOU DOING GRACE YOU HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES YOU CANNOT JUST READ YOUR LIFE AWAY DID YOU DO ALL YOUR ASSIGNMENTS AND YOU CANNOT DO ANYTHING ELSE UNTIL YOU HAVE COMPLETED YOUR ASSIGNMENTS"

*I should probably clarify that by "life" I mean "my mother" who does very well at keeping me on task but THE LITERATURE IS CALLING.

That being said, I have two very good friends who, once they heard I was reading Steinbeck, wrinkled their noses in disgust and asked me how I could read such terrible books.  "They're so dark!" they said. "There's nothing good in them!" they declared.

As I am still reading Steinbeck, obviously I have blissfully ignored them and gone on with my merry life, but it got me thinking.

See, they were right, in a way.  Steinbeck did not write happy books.  He wrote about dust and dirt and the useless efforts made by humans to create a good life in a broken world.  He wrote about plowing fields and chasing after fleeting hopes that vanished into thin air as soon as you'd caught them.  My friends weren't wrong.  His books are very bleak.

So why do I read them?  And more importantly, what do you get out of reading something like that?

John Steinbeck wrote from the perspective of Social Realism, which basically means he looked at the everyday life of people with no sparkle or shimmers added.  If anything, he made it a little bleaker.  But I like them!  They make you think.  I'm not going to force them down your throat, but I'm going to point out a few things to try to convince you to at least appreciate them.

1. Steinbeck takes the time to examine humans.
His books don't have massive, epic, and fast-paced plots.  It can make his books seem very slow and long, but he takes the lack of plot and uses it to look at humanity under a magnifying glass.  Each of his characters is well-developed, deep, and multilayered.  You think you know someone, and five minutes later you're not so sure anymore.  The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden both do this really well.  Instead of a fantastic quest or huge battle, you get real people who question themselves, make good and bad decisions, and interact with other people who are going through the same process.

2. All his characters in a book are different.
This sort of goes with the first point.  Not only are each of his characters realistic and well-developed, but they're all different, with their own goals and methods.  East of Eden is doing this splendidly.  Just like in real life, no two people are the same, and not only are they different in theory, but they feel different to the reader as well.  This is very difficult to achieve.

3. He cultivates empathy and lets you see someone else's life.
If you've talked to me or read some older blog posts, you'll know that empathy is very important to me.  The ability to see someone else's life from their point of view, or, as Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, to "climb inside of his skin and walk around in it".  Steinbeck not only encourages you to see things from someone else's point of view, but forces it on you.  You have no choice but to empathize with his characters, and because you've done it while reading a book, you become better at it in real life by default.  Not only that, but he portrays people so that one reader might agree with one character's point of view, and another reader might support another.

4. Instead of a shining and glittering world, he gives you an appreciation for real life.
The extend to which he goes to develop his characters and the way he portrays their walks through life not only gives you a peek into someone else's world, but shows you that your ordinary life and the people that enter and leave it can all be weaved into a story.  His stories point out that every event shapes a person, and both good and bad events can become important in the grand narrative.  Even small events are important in Steinbeck's world.

5. His writing style is amazing.
I have fallen head over heels with John Steinbeck's wording.  It's something you need to read to experience, but it's beautiful.  Take my word for it, pick up one of his books, and believe me, if you hate everything else about his writing you will at least appreciate his beautiful phrases.

6. The stories (especially his endings) prompt thought.
The ending to Of Mice and Men especially got me.  If you asked me what I thought I would have said IT WAS A TERRIBLE ENDING THAT SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED HOW MUCH MORE DEVASTATING COULD IT POSSIBLY HAVE GOTTEN.  Once I'd calmed down, though, I started thinking about why he'd ended it that way and what he was trying to do.  I would argue that there's something in every chapter to make you think.  Whether it's a character's personal philosophy, an event, or an interaction, my brain has something to keep it turning looooong after the book is over.

So there you have it.  Why Steinbeck has become one of my favorite authors.  As someone who analyzes people for fun, his books are the perfect opportunity for me to do that.

I should probably point out (possibly in my defence?) that I don't really like watching the movie versions of his books.  I don't mind reading them, but to see them on a screen can be a bit much.  I've only seen The Grapes of Wrath in movie form, and I don't really want to see any others.  There's also the problem of plot.  Because there's not a lot of action, it can seem even slower on screen when you don't have his descriptions and wording to carry you from one event to the next.  Overall, the feel of the books don't tend to transfer well.  So I'm arguing in defense of the books, not the films.

Also: If someone likes a book, insulting it is not the right thing to do.  I mean, you might love avocado but I'm not going to sit in front of you and talk about how disgusting it is, right?  That would be mean.  Appreciate varied tastes in literature, guys.  If we all read the same things, life would be boring.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Beautiful People: March 2017

This month is not a good month for this blog, and I should probably specify a few things.
1. You will be getting a book review.  Of one book.  The only book I read this month.
2. I don't think I'll be doing a "you want to go home and rethink".  I'll just move everything I had planned for this month onto next month.

The reason for these things is this: SCHOOL.

Yup.  I had a research paper due, and then my brain decided to go on vacation without me over spring break, and then I had midterms, and now the month is nearly over and I have nothing.  SO I'M FILLING OUT A BUNCH OF QUESTIONS AND CALLING IT A BLOG POST.

This is hosted by Cait at Paperfury and Sky at Further Up and Further In.

The character I'm going to do?  JAMES!  James Camelot Tucker, from my (hopeful) Camp Nano story.  We'll see how this goes.

1. What's their favorite book/movie/play/etc.?
James likes Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  He's also seen smatterings of Doctor Who, but probably wouldn't list it among favorites.

2. Is there anything they regret doing?
As much as he's tried to erase all regrets from his life and take charge of his here and now (which he would say sarcastically), he regrets not making musical recordings in high school, because he doesn't have the money or equipment now.

3. If they were sick or wounded, who would take care of them and how?
He would take care of himself and the guy he shares an apartment with, Orion (the epitome of dry British sarcasm), would make sure he's alright while grumbling about it.

4. Is there an object they can't bear to part with and why?
His guitar.  Playing it is his escape from life, and music means more to him than he'd ever let on.  It was also a high school graduation gift from his parents, and is a pretty good quality instrument.

5. What are five ways to win their heart (or friendship)?
           1. Take him food.
           2. Listen to his music.
           3. Listen to him rant about how people never leave him alone.
           4. Pet his cat.
           5. Leave him alone.

6. Describe a typical outfit for them from top to bottom.
No hat, a plain or band tee (with a hoodie on cool days), comfortable jeans, and canvas sneakers.  Very casual and unassuming.

7. What's their favorite type of weather?
Bright and sunny, but cool enough to keep you from sweating, with a few white, puffy clouds in the sky.

8. What's the worst fight they've ever been in?
Right before he moved out, James had a massive fall-out with his parents about college.  He didn't want to go, and they were pushing him to apply.  It resulted in him getting an apartment in the city where he lives now.

9. What names or nicknames have they been called throughout their life?
His mother used to call him Jamie, but he never let anyone else call him that, and refuses to let anyone use it now.  He's always been extremely adverse to nicknames.

10. What makes their heart feel alive?
Music.  Real, genuine, from-the-soul music.

So there you have it!  Ten things about James Tucker!  Maybe you'll get some other posts from me before this month is out, but I don't know, I've been pretty dead to the world.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Little Bit of Fun

So as I was taking a short study break, I realized two things.
1. I have not posted anything this entire month.
2. I don't know my readers!  AT ALL!

I mean, I know my mom and like, two other people read this blog.  That's it, as far as I know.  So I thought I'd get to know ya'll with a fun little survey.  It's nothing serious.  Mostly about books.  It's a little long-ish, but it shouldn't take more than five minutes.  I mean I just kinda wanted to make a survey, so this is my excuse.  Answer whichever questions you want.  Or all of them.  Have fun!