East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

Viking Press, 1952

east of eden

A few months ago, I was sitting in a friend’s kitchen complaining about the lack of ice in the freezer for my drink, which prompted the question: who invented ice?

What followed, after google searching the question, was a surprisingly interesting article titled The Surprisingly Cool History of Ice. I read the entire article, and then mostly forgot about it until the other day when I began chapter 37 of East of Eden. It started as a vague familiarity —I couldn’t quite place the interest I had in Adam Trask’s ice business —then it hit me. Adam Trask is the man who invented ice! This isn’t true at all of course. At most, he is inspired by the real inventor of ice. Still, it seemed like a strange coincidence. I mention this because I love coincidence and what is called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon: when, after learning a piece of obscure information or a new unusual word, you begin to encounter it again and again. I love experiencing this phenomenon because it is a reminder of how exciting knowledge is. The more you know about anything, the more you’ll notice, and the more invested and connected you feel to the world around you, or in my case, the book I’m reading.

I loved East of Eden so much more than I expected. It is one of the greatest things I’ve ever read. It is so good and so big that it’s difficult to come up with a single thing to say about it. Instead I feel inclined to write about things it makes me think about. Like the inventor of refrigerated shipping. Or the time I stopped in Salinas on a road trip and hated everything about it.

East of Eden is going in my Must Read category. It is about the battle between good and evil, and it is about how to help the good win in the end. It is universal. In Steinbeck’s words: “A great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting—only the deeply personal and familiar.” It is also about greatness and the loneliness of greatness. It is somehow about everything. It’s important to acknowledge that it is outdated. Women, although surprisingly prominent, are still frequently in the background. POC, although not ignored, only exist in their relationship to the white protagonists. But East of Eden is still universal. Sometimes the men just forget their stories apply to the rest of us.

Links: Goodreads | Buy it on Bookshop .org

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