Thursday, May 11, 2017

What and How We Read

Steinbeck Home and Restaurant
Recently a friend we met on the John Steinbeck Retreat forwarded news that Steinbeck's childhood home, which had been operated as a lunch-time restaurant by volunteers (with a professional chef and helper in the kitchen) was closing because of inadequate funds to sustain its operation.   The day our group ate there, all of the tables were filled; however, that included 24 of us.  My husband and I ate there when we visited Steinbeck Country several years ago.  It is a wonderful part of the Steinbeck experience, and it would be a shame for it to close.

Mural across from Steinbeck Center
I suppose I am not a typical reader.  I have mentioned my Millennium Reading List, which I compiled at the turn of the century, consulting the lists of great books several publications printed at that time, supplemented with titles from other sources.  My intention to select 100 Great Books quickly expanded beyond the 1900s and grew to more that twice the intended number, and it continues to grow faster than I can keep up, encompassing both fiction and nonfiction.  My attitude is that life is too short to read everything, so why waste time reading junk!

Not all my favorite authors are dead.  I have a shelf of David McCullough histories, and I am a fan of Barbara Kingsolver.  I do read Best Sellers, but usually months after they were on the Best Seller lists, and only if reviewers (professional and friends) that I respect have recommended them.  It sometimes seems that each book I read leads me to more--by the same author, on the same subject, or to learn more about the history of the period described in the book.

Steinbeck Center
Those of you who regularly follow this blog know that I love Willa Cather, and now you know that John Steinbeck is one of my favorites.  I am a great believer in the importance of a literate citizenry necessary to support a great country.  I have shared a favorite quote from Einstein:  "If you want intelligent children, read them fairy tales.  If you want more intelligent children, read them more fairy tales."  Several of my past blogs have dealt with encouraging the habit of reading in our children.  Most adults who are regular readers of books learned that habit as children.

I fear that reading is a habit on the decline.  Even in her home state of Nebraska, the great Willa Cather is no longer on the required reading list of public high schools.  Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" is still read in many schools, but it is often relegated to younger readers who may not fully appreciate it.  Too few readers get past Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath," a great book but not the only one worth reading.  Despite the huge popularity of "Downton Abbey" on PBS, few readers explore the great English novels written in the 1800s, of which my favorite, "Pride and Prejudice," is only one.

Enjoying access to archived material
But I will continue to be a cheerleader for reading, and sharing time with others who love to read is a special treat for me.  The photographs in this week's blog were taken when our retreat group visited Salinas, California, Steinbeck's childhood home.  We toured the Steinbeck Center and enjoyed a special opportunity to view items from the museum archives not usually seen by visitors.  We had lunch in Steinbeck's childhood home, and we ended our day with a visit to the graves of Steinbeck and other family members.

My favorite Steinbeck book is "East of Eden," a challenging book that I first read about fifteen years ago.  I will close by sharing a conversation from that novel between Samuel Hamilton, who visited his younger friend Adam, to help select a name for the twin boys whose mother had deserted them soon after they were born. In his grief at having been abandoned by his wife, Adam neglected his sons, imposing fears about their mother's evil having been inherited by the boys.  Samuel tells him:  "I don't very much believe in blood.  I think when a man finds good or bad in his children he is seeing only what he planted in them after they cleared the womb."  Adam:  "You can't make a race horse of a pig."  Samuel:  "No, but you can make a very fast pig."    

Graves of Samuel & other family members
Just as Samuel believed in bringing out the best that was possible in Adam's sons, I admit that I believe that reading quality literature and learning from reading history can bring out the best in all of us.  I would love it if you took the time to share the titles of your favorite books with me.  The long-time readers of this blog will remember what a popular series of blogs resulted from your sharing of favorite childhood books, so sharing titles of favorite books you have read as adults should be fun too. 

It was Isaac Werner's love for books, and his amazing personal library, that drew me to him, after all!

(Remember, you can click on images to enlarge.)


The Blog Fodder said...

I rarely read any non-fiction book more than once so it is hard to pick a favourite. Fiction: LeCarre spy novels of which I would say The Night Manager would be one of the best stand alone. Westerns: Ernest Haycox books which I have read and reread many times. But my all time favourite book is Jack Schaefer's . In the fictional biography of one man Schaefer chronicles the few decades of the Cattle West of legend through to its end. It is bitter sweet and is the print version of Willie and Waylon's .

The Blog Fodder said...

And do not waste your time on any of the movies by that name. They are dreadful pale imitations.