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.


Five things I learn about Robert Louis Stevenson from his short stories


I was biding farewell to Robert Louis Stevenson as I closed the final page of ‘The Treasure of Franchard’, the last piece of his popular short stories anthology a few weeks ago.  Thanks to ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, ‘The Merry Men’, ‘Will O The Mill’, ‘Markheim’, ‘Thrawn Janet, ‘Olalla’ and ‘The Treasure of Franchard’, I gather these following ideas about this beloved Scottish author:

  1. Philosophical and reflective

Reading Robert Louis Stevenson can be a hard task. His works invite me to reflect so much, even when he writes something funny. It’s like watching Adam Sandler’s dark comedy, the kind of laugh that tears my heart because something serious and ironic is in it, too. ‘Will O The Mill’ proves me this. This tells a story about Will, a very generous and kind-hearted person, who spends his lifetime staying in the same place until the day he dies. For me, Will is the type of person who is very close to all of us, the sort of a good-boy-next-door, the man whom you would like to make friends with. He is so nice that he doesn’t fight for the girl that he loves when another man approaches her. His story is very touching, a kind of calm, sombre one that leaves very impressive mark in my reading list.

  1. You reap what you sow

Although wrapped in cheerful tone, ‘The Merry Men’ teaches me a lot of life lessons, each and every thing that I throw will come back to me in abundant ways. Gordon Darnaway, the uncle of Charles Darnaway, is the perfect example of this. From the very beginning of the short story, it prompts me to think how can this old man is very serious about his life. He seems distant and takes everything so heavy. After I read on the part where he murders now I understand that he probably reaps what he sows. He feels uneasy because of the crimes he does before. His life seems unpleasant because he runs away from his guilty for so long. The last scene where he is seen jumping off the sea makes my heart breaks. So ironic for his life.

  1. Oh, the Gothic style

‘Olalla’ brings me back all about Gothic things, the stuff that I learn during my university years. The mysterious, horror, thrilling tones are strongly felt in the story. Although some of key questions remain unanswered, the short story successfully keeps me going completing it. Robert Louis Stevenson is really good at presenting the Gothic idea in it although does not executing it all as smooth as I expect.

  1. ‘Markheim’ proves his work can be unsatisfying

From ‘Markheim’ I learn that even a master like Robert Louis Stevenson can produce deficient writing. I can feel his writing misses a number of scenes. Disorganized. The last scene when Markheim indicates he will surrender himself to the police after a thoughtful conversation with a man doesn’t make any senses to me.

  1. ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ remains his exceptionally masterpiece

‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is by far his brilliant work, which completely sticks in my heart in different ways despite the fact ‘Of Mice and Men’ is my most favorite book and ‘Wuthering Heights’ is the best novel I have read so far. ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ stands out from the crowd not only because of it tells about someone’s split personality but also because of his very, very subtle language with huge focus on details. This story runs really delicate that if you don’t pay enough attention, big things will slip away.

Thank you Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson!

Thanks for providing the picture.

Five reasons John Steinbeck remains my most favorite author

john steinbeck quotes

credit for this picture goes to www.pinterest.com

I write this post because it has been a long time I haven’t read his another title. So, I kind of missing reading his books then I think of writing these five reasons why he remains my most favorite writer after a number of novels from other novelists that I have read, too:

Common people, the poor are the kings in his masterpiece His magical words put the poor, the struggling laborers truly have their say. He is the first author from whom I learn much to see the big, valuable voice in those unheard men. My most favorite example are George Milton and Lennie Small in “Of Mice and Men” (1937). Also, the Joad family in “The Grapes of Wrath” (1939). All the characters have one thing in common: survival. I think they can represent the society at that time: the dying American Dream in “Of Mice and Men” and the Great Depression in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

The straight-to-the-point language, third person narrative style Reading his books are a joy to my eyes given his straight-to-the-point language. Even if he is a master of storytelling I don’t find his language too wordy. He keeps on his direction when it comes to describe some places, people or events. I can say almost his novels don’t bore me. While third person narrative style is always my preference. The fact that he applies this method entertains me so much because I regard his voices are split into several characters within a book thus making me able to comprehend his stance in each and every character.

He loves writing dark comedy starring the outcasts If you have read “Tortilla Flat” and “The Cannery Row” I bet you’ve got my point. Laughing at the characters’ stupid actions or silly jokes while having a sense of pity for them is what I feel while reading the two. Despite the high humor doses, he inserts good critics regarding the characters. They both reflect the people who maintain their sanity in modern life. Their lives are great samples about those who stick at their given traits and won’t be consumed by materialism. As such, they are poor by intention. They know exactly that their lives are the path less taken.

I can always see the light at the end of the dark tunnel Even after reading more than 500 pages containing problems about poverty, moral crisis, religion mockery, and death, “The Grapes of Wrath” ends in a positive tone. Those who have read “Of Mice and Men” I think will agree with the finale of the book although I have to carry the sadness for quite some time. He lived far before the millennium yet I bet he foresees the world would be much cynical, skeptical than it has already been. I guess the books are best legacy he has left for readers from many generations to come. It’s not a matter of satisfying, happily live ever after endings, it’s more about hope.

Wisdom in the ‘East of Eden’ Although ‘East of Eden’ is a bit preachy I find the book as an exceptionally wise one that thoroughly examines every character’s personality. Reading the novel makes me understand the value of imperfection in human being. It’s the best book where I learn that in order to be a whole person we have to have big hearts in making peace with bitter facts that are against our wishes. The characterizations of Cal and Aron Trask are good samples to observe those values. Years after reading the book, the concept of thimsel ‘thou mayest’ still echoes in my mind, which it best describes the characters’ options to overcome sin in the book. I myself interprets the phrase as life is all about making choices.

A New and Improved Relationship with the Victorian Literature

During hectic daily activities as a reporter covering legal issues at the Corruption Eradication Commission, my former best office mate Erwida Maulia invites me to join her weekend gateway by visiting Kinokuniya bookstore on an uncertain weekend I forget the date is.

I have no intention of buying books at the time given my super busy daily life as a journalist. But I can’t help admitting myself that I arrive at an artificial paradise once I am inside the bookstore. Looking at the literature section brings my memory back to the years when I was a student of the English department at the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta. I remember almost all the titles, the novelists, but I soon realize that I have yet to read most of the titles. If so, I must have done that for the sake of getting good grades.

After a few moments of title selections, I decide to give a try for Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. I know the title from my most favorite lecturer, Pak Dayat. I always admire Wilde’s drama but have yet to read this (if I’m not mistaken) only novel he has written. And you know what? This title is the first one that kicks off my pure, new and improved adventure not only with the Victorian literature but also with the literature in a large extent.

The book is the first English novel that sets out my journey as an outsider, a refreshed likeness from a literature great fan. The novel is the first that I completely enjoy, the one that later brings me to so many titles during the span of six years of the so-called reading trip. Needless to say about the book. It’s so marvelous. I can recall the gothic feeling each time I remember about the novel. I really wish Wilde writes more books than drama but he does the other way around.

In between tight working schedules, I always try to find time to read books. I can’t remember exactly which books that I read after ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. After the awesome first reading experience, I quickly remember the name John Steinbeck. I don’t have any ideas why I didn’t read any of his books when I was at the college. Again, thanks to Pak Dayat, what I firstly remember about Steinbeck is ‘Of Mice and Men.’ Pak Dayat once tells to the class how powerful the novel is and I am left being so curious. However, it’s not quite easy to find the book.

Again, me and Wida visits the store and this time around I come with one name in my head: John Steinbeck. I am quite surprised to have found some of his books in the store. Since I haven’t seen ‘Of Mice and Men’, I grab ‘East of Eden’ instead. Prior to the visit, I browse about the book and enough to say, the title itself makes me peculiar. The more I read its synopsis I get even more curious. The core of the story lies on two brothers with opposite characteristics. Steinbeck takes the essence of the book from Adam’s sons whose tragic story becomes the first ever murder in the world.

The novel is quite expensive but it is so much worth it. It takes less than a month to complete reading the book and I totally loooove it! It is so surprising to read the novel saga which is full of wisdom, family issues and human flaws as Steinbeck is greatly associated with social and labor issues. ‘East of Eden’ pulls me deeper into this reading journey. So far, I have read seven of Steinbeck’s novels and will definitely read his remaining books later on.

I finally read ‘Of Mice and Men’ and I can’t agree more with Pak Dayat’s statement on the power of the book. It remains my most beloved book until now. So thin yet so mind-blowing. It tears my heart apart.

In between the so-called Steinbeck’s literary experience, I taste Asian culture through Arundhati Roy, Aravind Adiga, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kiran Desai with the most favorite one is Amitav Ghosh. ‘Life of Pi’ teaches me a bit about philosophy. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ tells me that a teenager’s naughty side can instead be the truest voice ever. The novel represents modern generation that is so lost, so divided between personal choice and future consideration.

After feeling enough with post-modern themes, Asian culture, I don’t know what goes through my mind that I return to the Victorian novels. ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ is the second Victorian novel that brings me back to the vintage era. It is less fantastic compared to ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ yet ‘Far from Madding Crowd’ is more than enough to eventually guide me to where my real, final reading taste is, Victorian literature, despite the fact that John Steinbeck remains my most beloved author. I really love his boldness in writing, straight to the point. So far, no authors can surpass the way he emotionally kills readers through ‘Of Mice and Men’. All in all, my general preference is Victorian novels.

After I have read Hardy’s six novels, I move on to George Eliot, now Elizabeth Gaskell. I don’t really care about moral values or social issues as seen in the Victorian novels actually. What makes me glued to the books written in this era is as simple as its language. Once I open the Victorian novels I feel like I see an abundant, very beautiful landscape in front of my very eyes. I can write down authors’ quotes or beautiful phrases. The Victorian novels are indeed such an art.

Given my experiences as a journalist, I would like to dig deeper into the Victorian books then put them down into pieces of interesting writings that won’t merely discuss on the content or characterizations of the books as the ones you may always find in school textbooks. That’s so boring. I know that. Rather, I’d love to play with some dynamic topics, like comparing Hardy and Eliot’s writing type. Also, I’d love to take out several significant characters from the Victorian authors as topic of discussions. I will be so happy to make the Victorian novels as everlasting topics, not too old to be talked about when you meet friends. The books can be in sync with modern era, though.

It’s been three years since I have started out my second reading trip with the Victorian literature. Firstly, I kick it off as a reader, no longer seeking good grades, but simply as pleasure activity. Now, I start thinking to learn making creative stories from all the Victorian novels that I have digested with the help of relatively short experiences as a journalist because reading alone can be worthless if I don’t share it with others. I have done this since 2011 but this time around I want to be more elastic without leaving the Victorian novels’ serious issues.

From obligatory to literary satisfaction now comes to the time when I try to get committed to blend the two. This mission is surprisingly giving me so much fun!

Getting stuck in reading a book

Buying a book without having enough time to read it is one of the biggest sins. And that’s one of the mistakes I have made in the past few months. Each time I look at “The Return of the Native”, I feel so guilty. It’s not about the price that I pay for the book but more because I completely lose my interest in reading the novel. I try reading “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in a hope that I will be enthusiastic in resuming my reading of “The Return of the Native” but that’s all in vain.

I like the topic in “The Return of the Native”, actually. It’s about real romance and it is written by my most favorite classic writer, Thomas Hardy. At first, I find that the reading process is smooth and I love his story. The language is beautiful as usual. Unfortunately, time limit causes me unable to spend sufficient time to finish reading the book. I have to admit I’m so busy lately. I have bunch of freelance translation jobs and sometimes I have to finish office work during weekends. I abandon the novel for so long that I can no longer really enjoy the story.

Probably, you may ask: how can I read “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” so fast but not for “The Return of the Native”? the answer is: “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is very thin and handy so that I can bring the book anywhere I go. Most of the times, I read the novel in a bus, plane, or during waiting moment. Also, the story is so amazing. So, pardon me Mr. Hardy. For this time being, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is definitely way above your work.

While “The Return of the Native” is the other way around. It’s so damn thick! I can no longer carry the novel every day when I go to the office. Initially, I am able to bring the book but it gradually becomes such a burden in my bag that already contains net book, cable, and other little stuff that makes my bag is quite heavy for a little woman like me. *sigh*

And the story is not as good as previous three novels from the English writer. So there you go. I get stuck with the book and I don’t count how many times I experience such kind of thing. Prior to this, I give up reading “Middlemarch” by George Eliot and “Impressions of Theophrastus Such” by the same author. From this experience, I won’t never ever touch any books by George Eliot. I simply dislike her long sentence writing style like William Faulkner’s.

Even I have this kind of experience with my most beloved author, John Steinbeck. After reading “East of Eden”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Of Mice and Men”, “Tortilla Flat”, I can’t believe that I need years to complete reading “In Dubious Battle” (and on-and-off reading process, of course). The novel is too political, too heavy, and too dark. To my surprise, Steinbeck’s writing is completely not smooth at all. I can’t feel any emotions while reading the book.

The worst experience about this is when I read “Fury” by Salman Rushdie. I can’t help digesting his coarse words all over the book. Plus, the story is too depressing. I don’t why I buy the book anyway. The novel is so expensive for me, about Rp176,000. *crying on the floor*

So, that’s my experience with unfinished reading novels. And the question will be on how I reclaim my enthusiasm with “The Return of the Native”? Should I really stop like I did in the past or I resume reading it?