2016 Reading Challenge: Part 3
This is a continuation of my progress in the 2016 Reading Challenge. Only reporting on two books instead of three this time around. (I’m trying to do more writing than reading!)
A book published before you were born. Well, technically, I already completed this task when I read The Great Gatsby, which I chose for my “book I should have read in High School.” But, no fair doubling up! So, what could I read that was published before 1972? As you know, my favorite author, hands-down, is Stephen King. He has often cited Ray Bradbury as a big influence. I was a bit leery because Bradbury is primarily remembered as a science fiction writer, and sci-fi is just not my cup of tea. However, I’d heard that Ray’s writings also contain elements of Horror. I looked up his best-known works and thought I might like Something Wicked This Way Comes. However, it was not available at my local library. So I selected The Illustrated Man, a collection of short stories first published in 1951.
The common thread connecting all the stories revolves around a chance encounter a traveler has with a tormented tattooed man out in the middle of nowhere (Wisconsin, actually). The guy’s tats were etched on his skin years ago by a witch, and they literally have a life of their own! He’s tried everything he can to remove them, to no avail. Even though the Illustrated Man warns our unnamed protagonist not to look at his tattoos while he is sleeping, the traveler can’t help but stare, enthralled by the beautiful artwork. Then the figures start to move… each short story in this collection is essentially a movie the traveler is watching, played out on the body of the Illustrated Man.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Right off the bat, the first story, The Veldt, is more terrifying than out-of-this-world. It could have been an episode of The Twilight Zone. I also immensely enjoyed Zero Hour. (Both stories I just mentioned have to do with very wicked children!) Rocket Man (which later inspired the Elton John hit of the same name) is as much about family dynamics as it is about Outer Space. Interestingly, Bradbury weaves Christianity and Science with the finesse of an alchemist in The Fire Balloons, which involves two Reverends who travel to Mars on a religious mission… only to find that the beings they encounter know far more about God than they do.
I am glad I took a chance on this book. I will read more of this author’s work for sure!
A Book That Was Banned at Some Point: I chose The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. I have always been fascinated by the Great Depression era. (In fact, my very first novel, A Little Company, takes place during this time period.) I was familiar with the term “The Dust Bowl”… the terrible time in the 1930s when farmer families saw their crops– and livelihood– destroyed by devastating dust storms and severe drought. But until reading The Grapes of Wrath, I never understood the suffering, sacrifice, and disappointment that thousands of migrants faced when they set out in droves to California, only to find the situation awaiting them there, was almost as bleak as back home.
Steinbeck’s story follows the ill-fated journey of the Joad family, from Oklahoma to California, where they expect to find work as fruit-pickers. Tom Joad, Jr. just got out of prison, and arrives home just in time to find his family getting ready to head west, loading most of their meager belongings into their truck (“an ancient Hudson”) and packing the family: Tom Sr., Tom Jr., Pa, Ma, Granma, Grampa, Uncle John, brothers Al and Noah, younger siblings Ruthie and Winfield, pregnant sister Rose of Sharon and her husband Connie, a former preacher named Casy, and one of the three family dogs. Sound like a tight squeeze? Yup. In fact, some of the crew rode up on the roof of the vehicle, atop the mattresses that are tied to the roof of the old jalopy. Enticed by leaflets circulating throughout the south, advertising the need for workers on the West Coast, the Joads hit the road. Hundreds of men are needed to pick grapes, they’ve been told. Practically the whole town is abandoning their ruined farms, leaving most of their possessions behind, and heading for California– the Promised Land.
Without spoiling things, in case you haven’t read it, I’ll suffice to say not everybody makes it to the West coast. When they get closer to California, the Joads encounter other travelers, who are headed in the opposite direction. When questioned, the, travelers say they are heading back down south… going home. The abundant jobs that were promised, are non-existent, they claim. Other men got there first, and snapped up all the available work. In spite of the warning, the Joads soldier on, determined to reach their goal. Of course when they get there, they find out the devastating truth. Not only is there no work to be found, but the migrants are met with hostility, and derisively referred to as “Okies,” a term akin to “hillbillies.”.
The Joads find themselves struggling with homelessness, poverty, illness, violence, and starvation. As the family struggles to stay alive, they are falling apart, piece by piece, The ending has to be one of the most shocking and memorable scenes in modern literature.
Okay, next on the list in my Reading Challenge, I have to find a book I previously abandoned and finish it. Lord knows I have a few of those lying around!