“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck – narrated by Dylan Baker

When I get new books, I put them on my iPod so when I’m done with one, I can immediately start another. (Bookaholic?) Usually I base what I’ll read next on whatever I might be in the mood for. When I was listening to “John Dies at the End” however, the book told me what to read next. At one point the reporter stops John in his story telling and says something like, I shouldn’t have said that other story was crap because compared with this one, that first story was like “The Grapes of Wrath”. I totally paraphrased that, but the point is, I knew I’d read that next. While in the middle of that, I found a book I’ve long since searched for, that’s another story, but I couldn’t start that one next because it’s somewhat dark and I needed something lighthearted after finishing ‘Grapes’.

“Grapes of Wrath” got my blood boiling a lot. I suppose a book with the word wrath in the title has achieved its purpose if it makes one’s blood boil, right? The story follows the Joad family as they are kicked off their farm and forced to move west to California. Why were they kicked off their farm you ask? The dust bowl ruined their crops so the bank decided it could turn a better profit if it kicked the farmers off the land and replaced them all with tractors.

The families loaded up their parents and children and family pets and all their earthly possessions and nursed their old beaten up vehicles across the country, sleeping on the side of the road in makeshift camps. The migrants banded together and took care of each other, all in the same boats, all hoping to start anew in California.

Ah, hope can be a dangerous thing. Sure it can keep you going, but it can also lead you straight into disaster. Not that the families had any choice in the matter. After every new hardship I would think, geez what next! Just when you think things will improve, the next curveball gets thrown.

This book was depressing but oh so good. They don’t call it a classic for nothing. It was easy to adore the Joad family and the other migrants they encountered. I loved how they took care of each other, sharing a biscuit when they didn’t have much to share. Towards the end of the book, Ma Joad says something like, what I’ve learned through all this is that when you need help, ask a poor person.

How true that is!!! Carol and I were just talking about that very thing, about how we have this little family, me and her and her neighbor guy, all of us downtrodden but each of us constantly giving to the other when we can.

Another phrase I loved was early in the book when one of the migrants the Joad family travels with tells the ex-preacher traveling with the families, I’m “pain covered with skin.” How I relate.

Steinbeck’s writing is simple and poetic. Early on I noticed him doing something that tends to drive me crazy, using the same word often in a sentence and/or paragraph. I quickly decided though that this can be done in a beautiful way, really drawing the reader’s focus to what Steinbeck was writing about. An example I wanted to remember but won’t get word for word is the use of the word flour when describing Ma cooking in the kitchen before the family hits the road. It was something like, Ma reached for a cup of flour, her arm coated in flour to the elbow. Again I’m paraphrasing, but Steinbeck did things like that all throughout the book. I just loved his writing! The narrater was also wonderful. The only time he bothered me was when he read the section with the ladies committee in the government camp. He made those women sound so annoying!

Another annoying thing about this audio book is the harmonica playing between chapters. I’m not a fan of sound effects of any kind being added to audio books. I mostly read at night, snuggled in bed, relaxing for sleep, and the harmonica was shrill and jarring. Luckily it didn’t detract from the book.

At one point I was glad I had Google on my phone because I had to look up the name of the oldest Joad daughter, Rose of Sharon. I thought that was what I heard but it didn’t make sense. It reminded me of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. I thought, hmmm is Rose owned by Sharon the way Offred was owned? Turns out Rose of Sharon is a type of flower. The Joad family call her Rosasharn, but I wasn’t sure if that was just the way the narrator was reading the part of Ma, because sometimes she seemed to almost have an Irish accent. Rose of Sharon was pregnant. Can you imagine trekking across the country in a beat up vehicle with your entire family, having no money for healthy food, sleeping on the side of the road, and being pregnant on top of it?

I am really glad I read this book. I didn’t read it in high school for whatever reason which surprises me, because I read most of the other classics everyone reads in school. I do think everyone should read it. I kept wondering what my teachers would say about such and such, this and that being symbols. The water is a rebirth! Noah wanting to stay by the water was biblical! Hmmm, what else would Mr. Heintz have come up with if we had read this in AP English? Now comes time for me to assign the rating, and I’ve gone back and forth on this. The ending really bothered me so I thought I’d knock the rating down but I don’t think I can penalize the whole book based on the ending.

Rating: Marriage Material

“The Grapes of Wrath” at Audible ~ “The Grapes of Wrath” at Amazon

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Filed under 2013 Book List, Audio books

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