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(A scan of my actual copy of East of Eden)

I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents.  Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies; some are born with no arms, no legs, some with three arms, some with tails or mouths in odd places.  They are accidents and no one’s fault, as used to be thought.  Once they were considered the visible punishment for concealed sins.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born?  The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg and produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?”

East of Eden is not a subtle book. I usually like subtle. Philosophy is bluntly spoken, not intricately woven in.  It is Good vs. Evil, in your face.  There are biblical references out the whazoo.

But it isn’t black and white.  Good doesn’t always triumph, and when it does, someone still gets hurt.

This is a family saga, or perhaps a dual-family saga, or perhaps a region saga.. is that possible?  This is the story of the Trasks, destined to replay the story of Cain and Abel, whether in Connecticut or California.  It is the story of the Hamiltons, the large Irish family in California, jovial and tragic.  It is the story of the Salinas Valley, hot and fertile and set in its ways.

I shared a scan of my exact copy of the book because it seemed to hold a strange power.  When I opened it, I saw all of California spread out before me.  Then I zoomed in slowly, past fields and mountains… finally reaching the Salinas Valley.  There, I sat unnoticed in a corner,  watching two familiar families intertwine, pull apart, grow, falter.

Literally.  That’s what it was like. I got sucked in. I didn’t like all of the characters. They each had their flaws, their strengths. But even the ones I didn’t like.. I enjoyed reading about. I think this might be the first book of this size (700 pages in my old, thick, mass-market paperback) where every page was important, where every interaction was significant and yet.. part of everyday life. Many of the characters live their whole lives in the pages of this book, so I began to feel like they were intimate friends.

So yes, read it.  And then.. read about it. While the Trask family is made up, the Hamilton family is based off of Steinbeck’s own relatives. He wrote it for his sons, to let them know where and who they’re from.  Pretty cool.  And it’s going on my ‘favorites’ shelf.

Have you read East of Eden?  Did it draw you in as well?  Did the lack of subtlety bother you?  Is The Grapes of Wrath just as fascinating?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Over the next few weeks, I will be slowly revealing to you the handful of books that I read again and again and again.  I will not so much post reviews, as a series of bookish memories.

There are many books I’ve read twice, but if I read a book thrice or more, I feel like the book has somehow become part of me.  The few books I’ve read time and again are eclectic, and I re-read them each for different reasons and at different times.  I will reveal them in no particular order, as they are each so ingrained in my life that I can hardly place which came to my life first or last.

See that copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in the middle?  It is beautiful, printed in 1938, deckle-edged, and just smells of time.  I purchased it just under a decade ago, in a second-hand book shop, for 50 cents.

I did not know it at the time, but this was destined to become one of my very favorite books.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

So goes the famous first line.

“It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me.  There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate.  I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.”

Those lines, the first time I read them, did not have the haunting effect they do now.  I longed to know the name of main character, which du Maurier never reveals.  It was years later when I realized that it doesn’t matter.  She was a nobody until she met Max de Winter.  Afterwards, she was Mrs. de Winter.  Those are her identities.  We are not given her name because it is unimportant.

Mrs. Danvers chilled me, and still does.  I can’t quite recall how I pictured her throughout the first reading, but these days she is a formidable, terse version of the Mrs. Danvers in the Hitchcock film version of Rebecca.

The lady who owned the second-hand book shop where I purchased this copy and I were great friends (or so my 16-year-old self thought).  We leant books back and forth, shared recommendations.  She would not give me my copy of Catch-22 back until she had found her own.  I would never have read Heinlein had it not been for her thrusting a copy of Job: A Comedy of Justice in my hands.

Her shop only stayed in town for a few years.  That small, southern town had few residents who would go out of their way to frequent it.

It was small, and the front room was filled with mysteries and a small section of mass-market contemporary fiction.  Past that, a similarly-sized room had a section of horrors (mostly King), a hodge-podge shelf of fantasy and sci-fi, two shelves of classics below eye level, and farthest back.. a towering bookcase of red Harlequin romance novels.

Every once in a while, I still find a bookmark from that shop shoved between the pages of one of my books.

Over the years, I gathered 5 other du Maurier books from second-hand shops, all printed around the same time, none as beautiful as Rebecca.  And I’ve read two of them.  None have the staying power of Rebecca either.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve turned to this book; perhaps once a year since I first purchased it.  I’ve not purchased a newer copy, and so this old, yellowed book has become quite familiar to me.  The front board could use a bit of glue.

But each time I open it, inhale it, finger it’s uneven pages, I am carried far away to a place I relish.  A place the 16-year-old me finds comfort.  Manderley, and an old bookshop.

Over at A Striped Armchair, I read an entry: Why I Love Being a Book Blogger.  It made me want to give it a go (admittedly, again).

I’m no good at introductions, and they’re typically boring anyway, so I’m going to jump right in with a meme.  Show Me Five Saturday is a meme hosted by That’s a Novel Idea.  I enjoy reading Jenner’s every week over at Find Your Next Book Here.  This last link is where you can find Mr. Linky if you’d like to post your own.  Original hostess is MIA.

(I just linked 3 blogs that I’ve not commented on more than once.  I should lurk less.)

With no furthur ado, Show Me 5 Saturday.

1 Book you read and/or reviewed this week

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

2 Words that describe the book: simply magical

3 Settings where it took place or characters you met:

  • Mary Lennox – a petulant little girl, born in India and forgotten by her parents.  After a cholera outbreak, she moves to England to live with her uncle.  In England, she is educated by the wind, a robin, an animal charmer, a jump-rope, and a hypochondriac.
  • Ben Weatherstaff – a grumpy old gardener who introduces Mary to the robin.  At times unapproachable, he’s really a softie at heart.
  • A robin – at times baffled by the doings of the children, he still assures his mate that they’re harmless.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

  • Yorkshire dialect.  I loved it.  This is a children’s book, but the author didn’t dumb down the dialect for her readers.  I wonder how many kids went around trying to talk Yorkshire after reading this. 🙂
  • The scene from the robin’s perspective.  It was delightful to hear the robin and his mate chatter back and forth, trying to figure out what those silly kids were up to.  “But then she said indulgently that humans were always more clumsy and slow than Eggs and most of them never seemed really to learn to fly at all. You never met them in the air or on tree-tops.”  I cracked up.
  • I loved the descriptions of the spring.  I felt like I read this at just the right time, as plants are unfurling their leaves around me every day, my own seedlings are shooting up, and my mint is going feral.  I remember that the visual experience of the garden was one of my favorite things about the movie as a child, and the same descriptions were adored as an adult.
  • Sheep!  There was a sheep in it.  Anything with a suckling sheep gets extra points.

5 Stars or less for your rating? 5, absolutely.  And I don’t give those out lightly.  I was enchanted with the movie over a decade ago, and I was just as enchanted with the book.  I found myself clapping my hands together in delight, and laughing wildly with the children.  I sent Mister ecstatic text messages: “She was standing in the secret garden!”  I loved it.

In honor of the book, I present my own neighborhood robin.  It isn’t the same species as the English Robin described in the book, but the American Robin is a welcome spring sight here.