John Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden’ is possibly my favorite book I have ever encountered. It is remarkable in its broad scope of insight into the human condition, following several generations’ struggles with good and evil, in particular the way these conflicts unfold within themselves as individuals and in relationships. Steinbeck writes with a gritty spiritual substance of cosmological consequence that grasps the heart profoundly, even theologically. The story is also set in rural, earthly California –the other California, unknown to the frenzied press– the same landscape of intimate, sensory memory that I am from, and which I maintain a deep affection for.
“A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then-the glory-so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished.”
I visited the Steinbeck museum in 2016, unexpectedly while visiting the coastal lands of my beautiful home state. The infamy of the two huge metropolitan areas of California, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, do to many smother out the gentler light even of the rural coastal regions, themselves hidden amongst the dominating bustle of the Bay Area nearby. But if you to Salinas, still right near the coast as it was in Steinbeck’s time (the continents’ dreaded apocalypse have not shaken it off yet) you will find a quiet place of the land, and some small and not very troublesome commerce of the people, and a museum in honor of the great writer of this shining land, Mr. John Steinbeck.
“The Hebrew word, the word timshel – ‘Thou mayest’ – that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open…Why, that makes a man great…He can choose his course and fight it through and win…I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because ‘Thou mayest’.”
I was inspired to write this piece in an application for a writing position I was interested in, which asked me to tell a bit about my favorite book. I thought it’d be fun to share it here.