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Thursday, August 22, 2002

How can we live without our lives? How will we know it's us without our past?

And why didn't anyone tell me that The Grapes of Wrath would break my heart? 90 pages in and I'm a bit teary.

Steinbeck comes part and parcel with a California public education, along with entire history units on the Gold Rush and Spanish missions and Junipero Serra and maybe, if you're lucky, a little bit of Cesar Chavez. We did Of Mice and Men my freshman year of high school, and East of Eden my junior year, along with a field trip to Salinas and the John Steinbeck museum. But I never got around to reading Grapes of Wrath, even though I like Steinbeck - his simple, powerful use of the language, his characters who feel like real people he met and talked to once upon a time, the sense that these worlds are real, lived in, dusty and dirty and full of their own small joys and sorrows.

The first part, so far, feels like the destruction of the world, a farmer's apocalypse, which I suppose it is. I wish that my teachers had assigned this book at the same time we studied the Depression, because I know what happened, but I don't feel like I ever really grasped how horrible it all was. How desperate the people were, how eager the car dealers and the second-hand buyers were to take advantage of their plight. Everything so far is so horribly human, and I want to marvel and say "It's amazing, how real he made it seem" and I have to keep reminding myself that it WAS real, that things like this really do happen.

And every time the word California is mentioned, it hurts all the more, because I don't know how this story ends - but I do know what those from the dust bowl found when they arrived. My California public education didn't scrimp there. I think Steinbeck knows this, and he's not overplaying it. Damn good writer.

I haven't been this affected by a book in a long time. It's truly remarkable, this feeling, and what's sad is that I hadn't even realized that I missed it.

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