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East of Eden: John Steinbeck Centennial Edition (1902-2002)by John Steinbeck
I was once told a good novel will set its tenor by the end of its first page, so lately I've been skimming the first page of prospective reads to test this theory. When I did this with Steinbeck's East of Eden, I couldn't stop; the assault of great writing never let up, and I knew I was irretrievably in for the long haul. No one writes exactly like Steinbeck, and this century-spanning book about two families in California's Salinas Valley finds the writer at his culminating genius (Steinbeck said, "I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for [East of Eden]."). His prose is vivid, fine, and panoramic in vision; his characters are so richly cast that he's capable of inducing a genuine sense of the glories and tragedies they experience. I read this book so compulsively (I stayed up till 4:00 a.m. one night / cancelled dates with friends / ate soup from a can) that I'm almost mad at myself for not savoring it more slowly, but there's ample consolation in Steinbeck's prolific career for any of his insatiable, expectant readers. Good follow-up read: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters.
Synopses & Reviews
A masterpiece of Biblical scope, and the magnum opus of one of Americas most enduring authors, in a commemorative hardcover edition
In his journal, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck called East of Eden "the first book," and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California's Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.
The masterpiece of Steinbecks later years, East of Eden is a work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love's absence. Adapted for the 1955 film directed by Elia Kazan introducing James Dean, and read by thousands as the book that brought Oprahs Book Club back, East of Eden has remained vitally present in American culture for over half a century.
Penguin Classics commemorates the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck's Nobel Prize with Portable Steinbeck for the 21st century
It would be impossible to overstate John Steinbeck's enduring influence on American letters. Profuse with a richness of language, sly humor, and empathy for even his most flawed characters, Steinbeck's books are still widely read and deeply relevant today.
The Portable Steinbeck is a grand sampling of his most important and popular works. Here are the complete novels Of Mice and Men and The Red Pony, together with self-contained excerpts from several longer novels, the text of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, a fascinating introduction by Pascal Covici, Jr., son of Steinbeck's longtime editor, and brand new introduction from leading Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw that puts Steinbeck in the context of the 21st century.
This sprawling and often brutal novel, set in the rich farmlands of California's Salinas Valley, follows the intertwined destinies of two families--the Trasks and the Hamiltons--whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. "A strange and original work of art".--New York Times Book Review.
About the Author
John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).
After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.
Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942). Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright (1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history.
The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata! (1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).
Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures.
Pascal Covici, Jr., son of John Steinbeck's long-time editor and friend at The Viking Press, received his Ph.D. from Harvard and taught at Southern Methodist University.
Susan Shillinglaw is director of the Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University.
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