Even John Steinbeck can be dull sometimes

It takes many months for me to have completed reading ‘In Dubious Battle’. After enjoying marvelous stories by John Steinbeck in ‘East of Eden’, ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, it is hard to believe that ‘In Dubious Battle’ is written by the same author who is my most favorite author, in par with Thomas Hardy.

‘In Dubious Battle’, now a major motion picture, is so vocal about labor movement and its relation with politic at the time when the book is composed. I don’t really mind about that. John Steinbeck is said to put much focus about politic. Reading ‘Travels in Charley: In Search of America’ makes me realizing his huge love for his country. He is a nationalist by the heart.

What disturbs me so much is how the plots are woven. They are like cut shorts here and there. Dialogs are made so frontal. John Steinbeck lets his writing style so straight-forwarded in the work that I don’t enjoy reading it at all. Despite the tone of the book that is ‘furious’ I instead feel unmotivated because of his technique.

I hope ‘In Dubious Battle’ is as emotionally-moving as ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. Both speak much about poverty and labor issues. Yet, the ways each of the novel tell stories are way different. ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ completely stresses me out in good ways. I am so absorbed by the plots. The book leaves me with mixed feelings. John Steinbeck’s way of writing is superb. Beautiful, deep, philosophical. No wonder that the title brings him wining Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. He is so total in producing the story in terms of plot, message and storytelling style.

But in ‘In Dubious Battle’ I can sense that he seems in a rush. He looks like forcing himself doing the work. The finale is clear yet he doesn’t work well in bringing readers into imaginations. Lack of emotion as well.

Looking at the two titles somehow reprimand me that even brilliant author like John Steinbeck can mess up. Not all his ideas are well-executed. I haven’t researched what prompt him creating ‘In Dubious Battle’. Whatever reasons behind the book all I can tell to myself that being good writers take a bloody efforts. Doing so doesn’t necessarily guarantee your books will score massive successes. Well, defining success can be relative but at least you can sense whether you make it or not by reading your own books.

“East of Eden’ is his first title that really wows me. The self-influenced novel grabs my attention to his name. It so moving, the words are so wonderful, and the message is so related to my life and I think people’ lives in general.

As much as I love ‘East of Eden’, John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ is my most beloved title of his, as a matter of fact, ‘Of Mice and Men’ is my most favorite novel thus far. It cuts so deep. It is better than ‘East of Eden’. ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ gives me another chill because the book is so powerful. It is a boom!

Reviewing all experiences regarding all of the titles I can sum up that proficient authors like John Steinbeck can sometimes have hard times. He can make very wonderful fictions but not free from making bad ones. Men, he is a human being after all. Being at the top throughout his whole life sounds godly, too good to be true.

Lessons learned is this: while worldly-proven authors can be bad sometimes then why can’t I be? This doesn’t mean to aide myself whenever I am lazy to write or read but the point is creating fictions is a very long process. I can be at the high but down sometimes. Or in between. The key is accepting who I am and what I can achieve at whatever level I am at.



Reading canon literature makes me snobbish


If you were a serious reader like me, I’d like to invite you reading this piece of shit. Whether my personality (a blogger says personality is a shitty affair) affects my reading choice or not, it is no wonder that canon literature or say, novels from Victorian Era, is my thing. I have been reading books from American authors with John Steinbeck as my most favorite one and been enjoying stories from Indian writers, but my heart has never been this happy once it has met novels by Thomas Hardy.

It’s like I and those books have finally found each other. How romantic I sometimes think about this.

It’s funny how serious minds are indeed meant for heavy books. See? Romance is not just for less serious or funny people. Even a distressing person like I can have my own love story.

Many have said that novels from Victorian Era set high benchmarks for literary works. You can’t count how many books by Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and definitely Charles Dickens have been adapted into movies, theaters or other popular shows. There have also been a lot of critics who say how their writing styles or issues are amazing. If I say their works are ‘difficult’ and ‘challenging’ I bet some will agree with me.

So, what happens after years reading books from this era?

At first, what I have immensely loved by reading the novels are the beauty of words and how skillful those authors in describing things and people. Reading this type of novel is like viewing a very wonderful panorama. Later, I call this reading experience as a sort of relaxing trip. The more I read the more I then learn what makes a good novel. Their stories teach me that good books are about people, about who we really are.

I have taken personal lessons just by reading their stories and I have put them into practice. Reading their books have made me a better person. That’s so true.

I still read books by writers from the era. Currently, I read ‘Markheim’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. As I enjoy more novels, a devilish thing sneaks in. The part of me who yearns for recognition, praise shows up. It is called arrogance.

It has been years that I reject books written not by authors by the period. I’d say because I still want to read classic books but sometimes it is more because I think popular novels are rubbish. If they are easy readings, I have no time for them. That’s my principle.

If you said I am smart or anything let me tell you I actually act naive. It’s like opting something difficult for the sake of ‘being who I truly am’ instead of trying to ‘entertain my soul’ via funny or lighter books.

It’s like why am I addicted to hard things while it’s really not sinful to occasionally read something popular. Why do I keep choosing tough lines over mild ones?

Knowing your reading preference is good, always bright thing to do. But putting barrier or walls over things beyond the preference is what makes your ego running wild. That may shield you away from fantastic stories that probably are in easy books you always underestimate.

The picture is taken from this.

When you neglect reading novels in your native language


As a non-native English speaker, preferring reading novels in English Language is like holding a double-edged sword. People praise me for my knowledge about the foreign language. They wonder how I can speak so fluently. A lot of friends often ask for advice related to English Language. They want me to share some tips to be good at grammars. They wish they were able to speak in English smoothly.

A close friend of mine recently wants to meet me because she wants me to help her writing in English Language. Every time people ask for suggestions how to master English Language skills, my answer is very simple: practice, practice and practice. I tell them that I have learned the language since I was a small kid, probably 10 years old. What they regard as amazing thing is an ordinary one for me because I have grown up learning the language. It is the skill that I have developed entirely out of curiosity.

For a kid growing up in a remote area, very far away from Indonesia’s capital, what I have experienced with English Language is weird. It was love at the first sight. The first time I knew the word ‘the’ my eyes sparkled. I and the language have entwined an intimate relationship since then.

My love for the foreign language has grown deeper when I was accepted as a university student majoring English Literature in 2002. Studying for almost five years in a culture city namely Yogyakarta, I found ‘my tribe’. I have made good friends with classmates, lecturers, seniors, juniors and fellows from other majors who encouraged me loving culture, language and social sciences in general. Spending years in academic environment that puts more focus on math and physics from elementary until middle levels, what I obtained during the college years is enlightening.

If you think my connection with English Language always brings nice stories, let me tell you that is not always the case.

After years reading novels in English Language, especially books from Victorian Era, I now forget how to enjoy reading books in my own language. As strange as it may sound but I can’t ‘read’ books in Bahasa Indonesia or Indonesian Language. Each time I try reading books in Bahasa Indonesia, I can’t put my soul into it. I find a lot of words or expressions that are strange or illogical because my mind has been too westernized.

I limit myself to read short stories in Bahasa Indonesia. I can no longer enjoy digest thick novels. I have spent years reading books by John Steinbeck and Thomas Hardy but not those by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia’s most leading novelist. Not only this makes my understanding about local literature is very narrow, I, too, find it difficult every time I attempt to write my own novels in Bahasa Indonesia. How would I write books in Bahasa Indonesia if I knew I wouldn’t enjoy doing it?

The picture is taken from this.

Stepping Out From Reading Comfort Zone

Over the past few months, I have unconsciously stepped out from my reading comfort zone.  I just realize about this today. Books by John Steinbeck and Thomas Hardy are my comfort zones. I love almost everything they write. Especially for Hardy. His writing style matches my fondness. Hardy’s books steal my heart away only by reading their few pages.

It has all started with Anne Bronte and now Charles Dickens. I disliked first-person narrative yet I love Anne Bronte’s ‘Agnes Grey’ and ‘Tenant of the Wildfell Hall’ despite they are written in first-person method. They impress me in different ways. They touch my heart deeper than I expect. They move my emotion.

I used to avoid reading any Dickens’ novels because I know his writing style doesn’t suit my preference. I have to seek Dickens’ titles that I believe will meet my liking and after some attempts I find ‘Our Mutual Friend’ then ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’. Although Dicken’s decision not to further discuss emotional problems regarding Nell Trent’s grandfather stealing behaviors disappoint me, I am profoundly disturbed by the poor girl’s sufferings.

I can’t deny that Dickens is a very great, wonderful storyteller. I am completely amazed by the way he crafts so many characters along with their problems that speak much on what happen at the time. All those fictitious characters, various plots into one just book. Dickens is very brilliant.

After that, I force myself to read ‘Bleak House’. A little bit of force, I mean. I know the novel won’t entertain me as much as I want but I strongly believe it will present me with memorable trip once I finish reading it. I look forward to see what kind of impression that I will obtain after completing reading the book. I gradually learn to cope with things that I dislike because I know I mustn’t get stuck with Steinbeck and Hardy if I want to get more knowledge.

I have to start setting more adventures with authors or writing styles whose books I previously decline to read. The foremost reason is simple; I have to learn about myself on how further I can make peace with things I dislike and that includes books.

How I pick most favorite novelists

What I choose is who I am. My earnest reasons of picking John Steinbeck and Thomas Hardy are because their writings, viewpoints reflect much of my own for either personal matters or general life. I want authors whose perspectives mirror mine; that they speak a lot about me and may be other readers, too. I simply choose favorite authors who can convey my thoughts and opinions about the world. I select writers whose personalities, traits are similar with mine. Simply put, I pick authors who can deliver my message about myself and my views about life.

And among a number of authors whose works I have read and whose biographies I have studied, John Steinbeck and Thomas Hardy are my currently most favorite authors. They share similar viewpoints that somehow resemble with my own.

  1. Both are realistic like I am
    I like the way both authors write much about public at that time. For Thomas Hardy, although he produces a lot of romance stories, he, too, emphasizes on society when which his stories are composed. Class division, public’ view about religion, poorness greatly influence story lines. As a matter of fact, public plays a very important role in the fate of the major characters. While for John Steinbeck, as he lives in much more modern era than Thomas Hardy, gives critics about people at that time in more various ways. For instance, he touches labor issues, poverty in Great Depression,  American Dream, and the like. This kind of issues have been and always interest me so much. I myself prefer like reading realistic-related books to fantasy or mere romance because we are social beings. The way we act is never original. We absorb what our surroundings have in store. We can’t decide and do what we always wish to do.
  2. Plain finale
    In relation to the realistic point of views, they choose to end their masterpieces on plain, depressing, sad, gloomy tones. They rarely close their stories in overjoyed mode. May be some of them are actually happy ending but not overly one. They tend to be concrete, the characters they have crafted can’t solely do what like. Society shape them, force them not to be who they are. I remember one of the most saddest ending of John Steinbeck’s novel is ‘Tortilla Flat.’ What makes me feel so desolate is imagining the late Danny’s friends; Pilon, Pablo, Jesus Maria, and Big Joe Portagee, can’t attend their mate funeral because they are afraid their poorness may taint the image of Danny. The funeral itself is held luxuriously and they can only watch the process from afar. So, what do they relate with me? Well, I am easily moved by surroundings. The more I live, the more I know that happiness is all about contentment and not every one, well as a matter of fact, most people have their own problems which make them unhappy sometimes. Learning more and more about this makes me easily becoming melancholic. I don’t know what makes it different between being realistic and being pessimistic, may be I am torn between the two. All I wanna say here is that all my mixed feelings are best portrayed by these authors. Life is not all about joy, in reality our lives is about being contented whatever lives throw at us.
  3. Indescribable clicks about way of writings, languages
    I think I have said about this point many, many times before and I still find it lacking,LOL. I really, really love the ways they craft their stories. The way of showing not telling, putting bunch of descriptions with beautiful languages completely make me head over heels. Their very superb, outstanding method of writing somehow ‘click’ with my taste. I wish I could write like them one day.

    Thomas Hardy and John Steinbeck thank you for ‘voicing’ my personalities and my views about life. Thank you for your wonderful languages that feel my heart with indescribable enjoyment.

I think I have settled down too early

I miss the days when I have stumbled upon books from various kinds of authors with different backgrounds that transverse time and spaces. The day when I open the first page of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is the moment when I launch a literature adventure. Since then, I have absorbed the minds of Nathaniel Hawthrone, Virginia Wolf, some of Indian-born best authors, with the best of all at the first period of the literature trip is John Steinbeck. I have also opened my mind reading a controversial title ‘The Catcher in The Rye’, a very impressive book about religion, survival called ‘The Life of Pi’ and a few good reads by Indonesia writers in my native language, Bahasa Indonesia.

That is when I best call the experience as truly adventurous until I have got ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and things have changed a lot since then.

Finding favorite authors is like feeling a very rare ‘click’ that somehow connects me with them in some important aspects. I really adore Thomas Hardy. Best of all, each sentence that comes from his pen is truly magical. Each and every word he says is a poem. He is very successful in bringing my mind to wander as I please once I am glued at his books. His imagination is really outstanding. I and Hardy share another obtrusive mindset: realism though he is much gloomier that I am.

I love his preference of people from lower class as the protagonists of his novels. The way he confronts romance against social norms interests me so much. While Hardy becomes my most beloved writer for Victorian era given his beautiful words carrying universal, evergreen messages, John Steinbeck is my best one for postmodern era.

Both Hardy and Steinbeck are serious writers who definitely reflect their views on life. One thing that separates them is that Steinbeck is satirical. While Steinbeck also opts the poor as the main actors in his books, what intrigues me is the outcasts that frequently appear on his novels, such as ‘Tortilla Flat’ and ‘The Cannery Row’.

While I have ‘friends’, very influential ones, who have so many things in common, discovering favorite authors means I indirectly set my reading standards. As such, I become so picky when it comes to reading books from new authors. I will calculate factors like first or third person narration style, diction, and obviously point of view, before I buy new books. I will most likely compare them with Hardy’s or Steinbeck’s. I have tried to break this through, reading books without considering those factors but they all end up in my bookshelf as unfinished materials.

While I can train myself as a consistent reader by choosing not to read materials below my standards, frequent reference to either Hardy or Steinbeck has caused me not to expand my reading horizon. In the past few years, I have stuck in the Victorian era partly because of Hardy and his colleagues.

I want to leave this comfortable reading zone then relaunch literature adventure into the Russian literature or Spanish one but my feet are still buried beneath the ground of the Victorian time. Only Alloh swt knows when and how am I gonna break this cycle…

Three novels that inspire me to write my own

Although ‘Of Mice and Men’ is my all time most favorite novel it’s not one of the books that encourage me to create my own one day. Here I’d love to share three novels that I quickly take inspirations from when it comes to write a novel:

  1. East of Eden

This title is the door of all the novels that I have read so far. It’s true that “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is the first one that leads me to read more about classics but ‘The East of Eden’ is the first that opens my perspective in understanding the truest value of great novels. I love the book, and it remains one of the titles that is very memorable. The story between Caleb and Aron which is inspired by Cain and Abel from the Bible is the part that interests me so much. The different reactions from the brothers when it comes to receiving the fact that their mother, Cathy, is a prostitute, suggest me in learning that imperfection is what makes humans so natural. That’s the grandest message of the book that I don’t only remember but also get my views right. What I’m trying to say is that I have to firmly understand the most essential point of writing great books lies on characterizations. No matter how big topic or social circumstances that become the background of the story, still, stunning novels are all about humans. Thankfully, I read the book at the beginning of the years-long literary trip thus I am not carried away with various, historical events that form some titles that I have read along the way because what I have on the top of my mind is characterization.


  1. The Mayor of Casterbridge


I think there is no better book to enjoy human inner journey from a bad to good one than ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge.’ What makes the book more fascinating lies on the way Thomas Hardy flawlessy transforms Micheal Henchard through ups and downs, unexpected events, foolishness, wise acts throughout the book. I think Henchard’s life journey perfectly reflect that of us, as human being, though we may not as goosey as him by selling his wife and daughter to a stranger when he is so drank. What I like more from the book is that it doesn’t sound preachy. It describes Henchard as a normal person with all of his mistakes and dark sides. His effort to fix the wrong things that he has done in the past is one of the best lessons that I can draw from it.


  1. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

There are three sensations that I get by reading the book. The atmosphere, criminal acts that are mentioned in the book successfully terrify me as I read along the book. Robert Louis Stevenson deploys everything that later on produce thrilling, frightening effects to all its readers. While this has been sufficient for making me glued at the book, Edward Hyde’s struggles to tame his devious side has made the story becoming more complicated. How he acts as a good person in the day then turns into a monster in the night is a good thing to observe. The fact that the evil side eventually triumphs becomes the climax of all and this turns out to be so devastating. Isn’t this so common? That oftentimes are are bound to either follow our good or bad side? The last one if feeling high over heels with the beautiful, civil words despite illicit tone and the puzzled story plot that keeps me reading the book until the last page.