This week's Weekly Geeks assignment was to interview fellow geekers about books they've read but haven't blogged about. I interviewed Dewey from The Hidden Side of the Leaf about Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl and she interviewed me about my longtime favorite, John Steinbeck's East of Eden. Because of this interview, I started reading Dewey's favorite The Grapes of Wrath. Here is Dewey's interview with me.
Have you read any other Steinbeck? The Grapes of Wrath is one of my favoirte books ever, and I wonder if you've read that, for example. But mostly I wonder if you think this is Steinbeck's best novel, as many seem to have felt, including, allegedly, Steinbeck himself.
I've read Of Mice and Men, which is another one of my favorite books, The Pearl, Travels with Charley in Seach of America, and Journey of a Novel. The Grapes of Wrath along with The Winter of Our Discontent are on my bookshelf waiting to be read. I love Steinbeck so much that I'm thinking about re-reading East of Eden and reading only one book of his every year. That way I have something new of Steinbeck's to read for the next 24 years.
I think not only is East of Eden the best book of Steinbeck's, but also the best book I have ever read. It gives the reader so many huge themes that affects every one's life: evil, goodness, having faith vs having none, love, friendship, the development of our own identities: whether they are given to use or we create them, and whether we have a choice in our lives or is it all up to chance or destiny?
What's the connection between this book and the story of Cain and Abel?
The connection between this book and the story of Cain and Abel is that the story is about Adam Trask who falls in love with a woman named Cathy. They move to Salinas Valley, California a place, depending on where you live, that can be paradise or barren land. Cathy gives birth to twins named Aron and Caleb. Crowing up, Caleb is fascinated with plants while Aron loves animals. The boys are fraternal twins and Caleb (Cal) is described as being "darker" looking. Throughout the book, biblical connections are frequently brought up: Adam loves Aron more than he loves Cal, Cal is jealous of Aron, and much more.
Who was your favorite character in this novel?
I can't name just one character as my favorite. Samuel Hamilton, a close friend of the Trasks and also Steinbeck's real-life grandfather, is such a powerful character. Samuel lives with his wife and nine children in a barren part of Salinas. Just like in the Bible, he's a person to listen to, a prophet who tells you honestly what his thinks about G-d and life.
My other favorite character is the Trask's "butler" Lee. Lee is Chinese and because the book takes place after WWI, not many people besides the Trasks and Samuel bother to see Lee's humanity. Lee loves life and learning, and has dreams of one day moving to San Fransisco to own his own bookstore. There would be no book without these two characters.
Did you have a least favorite character?
I honestly don't have a character that I hate, even Cathy who later changes her name to Kate. She's a monster because she cannot see the humanity in herself and others. She can imagine and live in and with Hell, but not Love.
How does the setting contribute to the story?
The setting contributes a great deal to the story for me but it's the characters I see most clearly. Even as I type this, I can see in my head Samuel as he rides home on his horse Doxology after staying up most of the night talking to Lee and Adam about the meaning of life and timshel.
Can you explain timshel?
Every time I read the passage about timshel, I get goosebumps. It's one of the reasons why I re-read this book every year.Timschel is the Hebrew word for "Thou Mayest". In the Hebrew version of the Bible, when G-d is talking to Cain, he says "Thou mayest rule over sin." In Christian versions of the Bible such as the King James edition, it says "thou shalt" or "thou will". The difference between the two is choice. Timshel is so important to every theme presented in the book because it gives you a choice: either you choose to rule over your own life or you choose not to. Either way your life is basically given to you. It is yours to do what you want with.
Can you give me a summary of the book for readers like me who have never heard of it and don't know what the book is about?
The main character and narrator is a fifteen year old girl. She's been living with a pedophile who kidnapped her when she was nine. The reader sees in her a lot of the coping skills of someone who's been living with great trauma. Her kidnapper barely lets her eat, because she's growing too tall and exhibiting some secondary sex characteristics. He decides that she should find him a new, young girl. She finds a girl about seven years old at the park, and concocts her own private plan for escape (or death, depending on her mood) which is a bold move on her part, considering how much it differs from his plan.
What made you pick up this very disturbing book?
What made you pick up this very disturbing book?
I read some reviews that praised it highly.
Without giving much away, how did you feel about the ending?
One reviewer stated that "it's the best you can hope for from such a disturbing book." I felt that the end was more realistic than the endings of tragic YA books usually are.
The book is marketed for young adults. Do you think it should or should it be aimed at adults instead?
I think that the reasons that someone might want this book aimed at adults is that they don't want teens reading about something so disturbing. But the book is definitely intended for a teen audience. It's obvious the author is writing for teens, and as an adult reader, I did not at all feel like the target audience.
Would you recommend this book?
In spite of the fact that it's a compelling story and that it's written skillfully, I don't recommend it. My reason is something that I hope will be discussed in the comments, because I really wonder what others think of it. I feel that we too often accept scare tactics that don't accurately reflect reality. We're made afraid by maps of where sexual offenders live near schools, without any knowledge of the sexual offender's crime. Often, maybe usually, their crimes, however horrible, had nothing to do with children. We paint them with one big "pervert" brush. And in doing this, we perpetuate this myth that children should be especially wary of strange men lurking in parks or near schools, when children who are molested are most often the victims of a relative or a known adult in a position of authority with children, such as a scout leader or a youth pastor. Check out http://www.opphouse.org/CAC.htm>this information, which states that 93 percent of victims know their abusers: 34 percent are abused by family members; 59 percent are abused by someone trusted by the family.
I'm not sure why we create such fear in children of strangers when they're more likely to fall prey to someone much closer to home. Why aren't we warning them of the more realistic dangers or teaching them more realistic safety rules? I'd rather see kids taught that their bodies are their own and no adult should ever touch them in certain places than not to take candy from strangers. And I feel that this book, in making the perpetrator a stranger who kidnapped the main character from a school field trip to the aquarium and later wants to kidnap a child from a park, causes damage in two ways. First, it warns teen readers to be wary of strangers instead of more likely perpetrators. Second, if a teen who is being sexually abused by a family member or other known adult reads this book, she may not even make the connection. She may continue to tell herself what many teen victims tell themselves, which is that what is happening is at least partially their own fault and not really a crime. She may feel that since her perpetrator isn't starving her or keeping her away from her family, she's not really a victim. I would like to see a book for young adults by an author as skilled as Scott that addresses the sort of abuse that a teen reader would be more likely to be experiencing.
Have you ever read anything else by Elizabeth Scott?
Not yet, but the writing in this book makes me want to see how she handles other subjects.