Bookworks Presents Today's Shelf Awareness for Readers
In April 1939, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath was published by Viking Press. It became a bestseller, and won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer. This month, Penguin is releasing a 75th-anniversary hardcover edition featuring the original cover illustration.
I read the novel in college in the late '60s and thought it very good but not great. A few years later, when struggling in graduate school, married, with a baby and two jobs, I read it again. I was floored. It spoke to me as it hadn't before. I realized just how sensitively and powerfully Steinbeck had captured the plight of the Joad family and so many others who were starving and homeless and trying desperately to get to California in order to survive.
Susan Shillinglaw brings this out beautifully in her excellent On Reading The Grapes of Wrath(Penguin, $14, paperback). She says we come back to this book because "Steinbeck asks us to open our hearts." His words are "urgent and essential for a compassionate world." She draws comparisons with the country's homeless today, and makes a reference to Syria in 2000 when farmers with dry wells abandoned their homes; a severe drought from 2006 to 2011 accelerated the exodus, paralleling "the 1930s croppers in Dust Bowl Oklahoma." She points out that Steinbeck's novel "considers the ecology of human relationships, layer by layer," how humans are bound to one another and their habitats.
She reminds us that Tom Joad was no reformer--he has no answers, no solutions. He's just a man struggling like so many men and women. But he asks us to care: "Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there."
The Grapes of Wrath--relevant then and relevant today, 75 years later. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher