Book Club Report: East of Eden

The women in my book club really like John Steinbeck. I do too, but not so much this one. Out of eleven, there were only two of us with any negative comments. I really felt horrible about it, especially for the woman who had chosen this huge book for us to read.

The woman who chose the book has become a good friend so, of course, I  had to back-peddle a bit and talk about what a wonderful writer John Steinbeck is and so forth. I’m not exaggerating. Nine women out of eleven LOVED East of Eden. Based on your comments to the First Paragraph of this book on Tuesday, I feel I need to sorry to most of you too.

So what’s wrong with me? I let my emotions dictate what I thought of the book. To me it was dark and depressing. It’s the story of two families and goes back two generations. The people weren’t very nice, although I believe it was quite realistic. Evidently, Steinbeck based the story on his own family. They definitely gave definition to the words disfunctional, demented, and evil.

If this was the story of Steinbeck’s family life, I really feel sorry for him. The way I understand it, the role of Kate was modeled after Steinbeck’s first wife. Kate was a horrible woman: she was mean, crazy, manipulative and self-centered. In the story she leaves her husband to start a bordellio. I wondered if that was Steinbeck’s way of getting even with a ex-wife.

I’ve read quite a few of Steinbeck’s novels over the years. He really is a wonderful writer and one of my favorites. I especially love the way he describes things. The first chapter of East of Eden is worth reading just for his description of the Salinas Valley. I’m eager to take a trip there and see it for myself. I understand there is an excellent Steinbeck museum there too.

I’ll always be grateful to East of Eden and Steinbeck for the words I’ve been looking for to explain what California poppies look like. They only grow here in California. I’ve tried explaining them to friends who live in the midwest. I’ve taken numerous pictures of them but it’s  hard to convey their true beauty – until now. John Steinbeck got it right.

“These too are of a burning color — not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were a liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of  the poppies.”

Those little golden gens are found everywhere here in the springtime. Thanks Mr. Steinbeck for loving them too and describing them so well. I’m sorry I didn’t love your semi-autobiographical novel. But – I’m still a big fan of yours.

Please don’t run away from East o Eden based on my experience. As I mentioned above, others had a much better experience. For those of you who have read the book, what did you think?

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11 Responses to Book Club Report: East of Eden

  1. Mary says:

    I read it years ago but I remember I liked it. That doesn’t always happen with such a dark book – I remember that as well. I’m pretty sure it’s Steinbeck’s writing that kept me reading. It also made me want to visit the Salinas valley. Maybe someday.

  2. JoAnn says:

    It’s hard when you don’t love a book everyone else raves about, but there’s really no need to apologize! A variety of opinions is what makes discussion fun… and at least you still love Steinbeck 😉

  3. Ti says:

    Steinbeck’s settings are always depressing. I like depressing though. It makes me feel better about whatever is going on in my life at the time. That said, this is one of my favorite books. I loved it because it took evil, filleted it and flung it in the street for us all to see. Cathy was so evil, yet so interesting.

  4. Barbara says:

    I’m ashamed to say I started Cannery Row once many years ago and couldn’t finish it. I’ve always meant to try Steinbeck again but right now “depressing” isn’t for me. I need cheerful during chemo. Maybe next year will be my Steinbeck year.

  5. You shouldn’t apologize for your reaction to a book – your response is just as valid as everyone else’s. My sister read this book and liked it but didn’t love it.

  6. Oh Margot — I really hated this book. It just totally depressed me. And it is strange, because Grapes of Wrath is on my all time favorite list and I like everything else Steinbeck.

    (My son worried about me when I said Grapes of Wrath was my favorite book…he is one of those who think all of Steinbeck is depressing.)

    I just didn’t find anything to redeem the unrelenting sadness and — well — depravity in East of Eden…. no character I could care about, no…. well, I just did not like this book at all. Good think I’m not in that book club (I probably wouldn’t be invited back if I had been ;>)

  7. Aarti says:

    Oh, interesting! I’ve told many people that I just do NOT love Steinbeck, and all of them say that they loved East of Eden and that I should try THIS Steinbeck. But I just don’t want to 😛 So in a way, I’m glad you didn’t love this one!

  8. Bumbles says:

    Oh Margot – you are so dear, trying to be so polite with your criticism! As long as you explain why a character/setting/plot/writing technique wasn’t up your alley, it is constructive and adds depth to an otherwise out and out love fest. Thanks for sharing the good and the bad.

  9. kaye says:

    I’m with Molly, I appreciate your honesty. I hope to read a Steinbeck someday. I’ve never quite felt up to it.

  10. Staci says:

    This is one that I haven’t read yet, but I will probably read it at some point. My son, Marc, checked it out from the library a few weeks ago. I’ll have to let you know what he thinks when he’s done!

  11. Nan says:

    I read all my Steinbeck when I was in high school. In fact, I can remember where I was sitting in the yard when I read East of Eden. For a while I thought I’d go back and reread him since I remember loving his work. But I think he will remain an author from my youth. I can’t take that depression and gloom now. Like a Bergman movie which was fine to watch when I was in my twenties. Now I’d rather have more uplifting themes in my books and movies. Thanks for such a good review. And I don’t think you ever have to feel badly for not liking what others like, even if one of those others chose the book.

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