Tag: JohnSteinbeck

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8 Classic Books That Are Surprisingly Short

If you missed out reading the classics in high school or college, then you’re probably not motivated to pick any of them up. Unless a teacher is going to fail you for not reading East of Eden (which is roughly 600 pages), then you’re probably just not going to read it. Which would be unfortunate, by the way, because that book is juicy as hell.

 

Not every classic is intimidatingly long, though. Here are some classic books that are surprisingly short (which, for the purposes of this list, is 250 pages or less).

 

1. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway – 46 pages

 

Old Man and the Sea

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It’s a Hemingway story about an older Cuban fisherman and a fish. Fun, right!? Well, shortly after its publication, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s forty-six pages. Read it!

 

2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – 98 pages

 

'A Christmas Carol'

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Whether you’ve read it or not, A Christmas Carol has probably wiggled its way into your psyche. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come probably walk around your imagination during the holiday season. At less than 100 pages, you might as well curl up on a cold December night and knock this one out.

 

3. Night by Elie Wiesel – 120 pages

 

Night

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Night is one of the few classics that’s 100% earned its place as a high school requirement. At 120 pages, there’s no excuse not to read Wiesel’s autobiographical account of how he survived his time in concentration camps. It’s a tale of suffering, cruelty, and, in a way, resiliency. It’s not great for the faint-hearted, but it’s necessary.

 

4. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison – 224 pages

 

'Bluest Eye'

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Toni Morrison’s classic follows Pecola Breedlove’s quest to fit in despite the color of her skin and brown eyes. It was Morrison’s debut novel, but she tackled heavy issues like race, beauty, and alienation. At a slim 224 pages, put this on your to-read list!

 

5. Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger – 208 pages

 

Franny and Zooey

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This one is actually two-for-the-length-of-one! ‘Franny’, a short story, was first published in 1955 and Zooey, a novella, in 1957. But they’ve since been published together as Franny and Zooey. The stories follow the two siblings of the Glass family, who were a particular obsession of Salinger’s. Jump into the mind of Salinger with this tale of family drama!

 

6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 112 pages

 

Of Mice and Men

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Best friends forever, George and Lennie finally score a sick job as ranch workers in California’s Salinas Valley! Things don’t go so well, and…you know what? It’s short. Just read it.

 

7. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – 240 pages

 

Treasure Island

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Long John Silver! Billy Bones! Jim Hawkins. Okay, the last one is kind of lame. This classic tale of swashbuckling and seafaring sits at a cozy 240 pages. Between its brevity and exciting tales of piracy, you might be able to finish this on your next day off!

 

8. The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark – 112 pages

 

Driver's Seat

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Opening with the main character’s death, Spark’s masterpiece tells the strange story of Lise’s last day alive. It’s a classic among fans of the strange and unsettling. If that’s not your thing, it’s only 112 pages. You might as well give it a try.

 

Feature Photo by Prasanna Kumar on Unsplash

harriet beecher stowe and uncle tom's cabin

9 Visionary Books That Helped Shift the Course of History

 

Some writers seek to change the world, while others seek to only change themselves. In any case, these nine authors and editors made such an impact with their work that the contents of their pages made direct change in the real world. Next time somebody tells you that art can’t make a difference, please show them this. 

 

  1. ‘A Dictionary of the English Language’ Influenced Austen, Dickens and the Brontës

 

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary cover

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Published in 1755, Samuel Johnson’s  ‘A Dictionary’ provides an impeccably curated tour of the best of the English language up to that point, including entries on topics like fashion and sex, with spellings examples from the likes of Milton and Shakespeare. It in turn influenced the next generation of top English language writers, with legendary like Dickens and the Brontë sisters paging through for inspiration.

 

  1. ‘The Jungle’ Moved Teddy Roosevelt to Reform Food/Drug Laws

 

the jungle cover

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Upton Sinclair was a muckraking Chicago journalist when he published ‘The Jungle’, a 1906 exposé of the horrific labor conditions experienced by many impoverished immigrants, particularly those working in the unhealthy meatpacking industry. Aiming to make a definite impact, Sinclair sent a copy of the book to President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was so appalled by the unsanitary practices documented by Sinclair that he ordered a federal investigation—an investigation that eventually led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. If you aren’t worried about formaldehyde in your hamburger, then you have Sinclair to thank.

 

  1. ‘The Guns of August’ Helped JFK Navigate the Cuban Missile Crisis

 

guns of august cover

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A comprehensive history of WWI, Barbara Tuchman’s ‘The Guns of August’ was an immediate bestseller upon its publication in 1962. However, the scope of its influence would soon extend beyond the laps of layreaders, reaching president John F. Kennedy in the bleak October days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. JFK relied on the book as a kind of guide, citing its coverage of the tragic folly of old-school generals’ rigid military strategy as a lesson for dealing with the unprecedented situation at hand. He even reportedly told his brother Bobby ““I wish we could send a copy of that book to every Navy officer on every ship right now, but they probably wouldn’t read it.” With a little help from Tuchman though, Kennedy and his team were able to diffuse the looming tragedy.

 

  1. ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ Helped Start A War

 

uncle tom's cabin cover

Image courtesy of Goodreads

 

It’s one of the great anecdotes in American history: Upon meeting ‘Uncle Tom’ author Harriet Beecher Stowe for the first time in 1862, Abraham Lincoln quipped “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!” Though subsequent research has found this quote to most likely be fictional, it speaks to the truth of just how explosive ‘Uncle Tom’ was upon its publication in 1852. It’s depiction of the unyielding abuses of southern slavery, though melodramatic and stereotypical by modern standards, the bestselling book of the nineteenth century galvanized the abolitionist movement and contributed to the regional tensions that led to the breakout of civil war.

 

 

  1. ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ Exposed the Misery of the Great Depression’s Forgotten 

 

grapes of wrath cover

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The story of the Joads, a poor Midwest family who face discrimination and crushing poverty as migrant workers in Depression-era California, shocked the American public when it was published in 1939. Until that point, many Americans imagined fertile California as a kind of Garden of Eden—but California-native Steinbeck’s depiction of abusive landowners and miserable workers moved Eleanor Roosevelt to set up a congressional committee on migrant issues while also inciting book burnings and bannings from many agricultural communities dependent on cheap migrant labor.

 

  1. Al Gore Didn’t Invent the Internet—‘Neuromancer’ Did

 

neuromancer cover

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Along with popularizing the cyberpunk genre, William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ may have contributed more to the creation of the internet than almost any other work of fiction. In the book, a ‘cyberspace’ where masses of people engage in ‘consensual hallucination’ while dodging threats from those who wish to ‘jack’ the system. We’re shocked that this classic still has no movie adaptation.

 

  1. ‘The World Set Free’ Triggered the Invention of the H-Bomb

 

the world set free cover

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One of H.G. Wells’s lesser-known novels, ‘The World Set Free’, with its description of a bomb that can explode for days at a time, contains astonishingly accurate predictions of the coming nuclear revolution. In fact, it may have had a siginificant part in causing that revolution: Leo Szilard,a Hungarian-born physicist, read the book in 1932 and was inspired to develop neutron chain reaction the following year. Much like the chain reaction he was studying, Szilard’s research would soon lead to the Manhattan Project, the A- and H-bomb, and the current global “on the constant verge of annihalation’ status quo. Thanks a lot, Mr. Wells…

 

  1. ‘Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral’ Forced Some Whites to Confront Their Racism

 

poems of phillis wheatley cover

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Phillis Wheatley never meant to cause an international sensation with her poetry, but that is exactly what happened when Wheatley, an enslaved African American woman, was forced to prove her authorship in a well-publicized 1772 trial. Along with exposing a wider audience to her spiritual writing, the trial forced more than a few whites to re-evaluate their attitudes towards the intellectual and artistic capabilities of people of color.

 

  1. ‘Giovanni’s Room’ Raised Awareness, Promoted Acceptance of LGBTQ Experiences 

 

giovannis room cover

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James Baldwin was only 24 when he left New York City for Paris, determined to live a free and authentic life as a black and gay man. His newfound freedom would eventually inspire his second novel ‘Giovanni’s Room’, the unsparing account of a white American’s homosexual affair with an Italian bartender. ‘Giovanni’ made big waves after its 1956 publication; though some decried it as immoral, it cemented Baldwin’s growing reputation as a talented, multi-faceted writer while also being one of the first works to pave the way for realistic gay stories in mainstream culture.

 

Featured image courtesy of Jesse’s Blog.

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10 Classic Books That Almost Had Different Titles

Book titles are important: along with the cover, they’re one of the first things we notice when we pick up a novel. We’ve grown so used to some famous book titles that we barely think about them anymore. Of course The Great Gatsby is called The Great Gatsby; why wouldn’t it be?

But the truth is, it almost wasn’t. And F. Scott Fitzgerald isn’t the only literary figure who switched up a famous title at the last minute. Here are 10 incredible examples of famous book titles that were almost completely different.

 

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Which number followed the “Catch-” in Catch-22 was debated by Heller and his publisher for a while. Heller considered 11 and 18 first, but they were discarded to avoid confusion with the film Ocean’s Eleven (the original 1960 version) and Leon Uris’ Mila 18, respectively. 22 was eventually picked simply because it was 11 (Heller’s original choice) doubled.

 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

We gave this one away in the introduction, but how crazy is it that Fitzgerald’s greatest work was almost called something else? In fact, Fitzgerald was considering several different titles, including Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires; Gold-Hatted Gatsby; On the Road to West Egg; Trimalchio in West Egg; Under the Red, White, and Blue; and our personal favorite, The High-Bouncing Lover.

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Rowling’s debut already had a title in the United Kingdom, of course, where it was known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But her publisher, convinced that an American audience wouldn’t know what the Philosopher’s Stone was, wanted to change the title to something more accessible. According to Philip W. Errington’s book on Rowling’s work, the publisher wanted Harry Potter and the School of Magic. That was lame, and Rowling knew it: she insisted on something more specific, and the “Sorcerer’s Stone” was born.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee made a lot of changes as she worked on her famous novel (the recently published Go Set a Watchman is essentially a very early permutation of the work.) At some point, her working title was Atticus. It changed to To Kill a Mockingbird as Lee expanded the novel and made it less about Atticus Finch.

 

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck wasn’t originally going to call his brief classic Of Mice and Men. Instead, he was going to go with Something That Happened. Maybe he thought the original title gave away too much of the plot?

 

1984 by George Orwell

Orwell’s original title was The Last Man in Europe, but his publisher thought 1984 was catchier. Orwell was a serial title changer: he also dropped the subtitle from his classic Animal Farm, which was originally going to be Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. He also considered A Satire and A Contemporary Satire as titles for Animal Farm, both of which seem rather obvious.

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s original title for Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions. Not bad, but it doesn’t quite have the melodic ring that the famous chosen title has. Plus, it doesn’t pair nearly as neatly with Sense and Sensibility.

 

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Have you read Twilight? No, not that Twilight. We’re talking about William Faulkner’s greatest novel, The Sound and the Fury, which was originally supposed to be called Twilight. Really!

 

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s original title for The Sun Also Rises was Fiesta. That would certainly have given the cover a bit of a different tone! We can see why Fiesta would have been appropriate, but we think everyone’s glad that Hemingway stepped it up a bit in the title department.

 

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s magnum opus is a powerful volume, but we don’t think it would have been quite as powerful if Tolstoy had gone with the original idea for the title. Tolstoy’s original title translated to “All’s Well That Ends Well,” which doesn’t quite do justice to his epic novel. The chosen title, War and Peace, was a real upgrade.

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7 Essential Literary Interviews

When we learn about an author, we understand more about his or her work. That’s why readers can’t get enough of literary interviews! Through these seven iconic interviews, some of history’s greatest authors and poorest liars stay with us forever. These captured moments are each required reading (or listening/viewing) for any true fan of literature.

Raymond Chandler, 1958 (Interviewed by Ian Fleming)

Part 2Part 3Part 4

This is a two-for-one deal, because legendary crime writer Raymond Chandler is being interviewed by spy novelist extraordinaire Ian Fleming. The conversation between the two men is fascinating. This is also the only known recording of Raymond Chandler’s voice.

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1936

Image courtesy of biography.com

Edited version

By 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s glamorous lifestyle had caught up with him. Injured and miserable at 40, he gave an interview to a reporter from the New York Post. The result is iconic and haunting. At times, it’s hard to believe that this is the same man who wrote The Great Gatsby.

 

James Frey, 2006

Full transcript

In 2005, James Frey was riding high. His memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was chosen by Oprah’s Book Club and became a monster bestseller. It topped the New York Times bestseller list for months.

Then, in 2006, everything changed. The Smoking Gun, a gossip and news website, published an investigation of Frey’s claims in his “memoir.” It turned out that he had made a lot of it up.

For the second time, Frey found himself on Oprah’s set. The 2006 interview, however, was very different from his first visit. The entire segment is uncomfortable, and the memory of Frey’s fall from grace has already outlived his literary fame.

 

Ken Kesey, 1966

When Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1965, he fled the country. He returned months later, and was promptly sent to jail. Kesey answers a few questions about his perspective on the incident in this short, impromptu 1966 interview. His attitude and beliefs are emblematic of the 1960s counterculture that he was such an essential part of. The girl in the video is Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Garcia, who later married (and divorced) Grateful Dead singer Jerry Garcia.

 

Harper Lee, 1964


Full interview

Harper Lee is famously reclusive. She hasn’t spoken to a journalist in more than 50 years, declining every request for an interview. But Harper Lee has been interviewed – once.

In 1964, not long after To Kill a Mockingbird was published and the same year that the film version was released, Harper Lee sat down with Roy Newquist. The interview can be found in Newquist’s book Counterpoint, but it’s also hiding in a few places online – including in the link above.

 

J.K. Rowling, 1998

“Will there be many more Harry Potter books?” the interviewer earnestly asks in this low-fi 1998 Scottish television piece. At the time of this interview, the second book in the series had not yet been released and the idea of Harry Potter movies was pure speculation. This is a fascinating interview from a pivotal moment in Rowling’s career.

 

John Steinbeck, 1952

In this interview, Steinbeck discusses his most famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath, a little more than a dozen years after its publication. Steinbeck seems to join in the optimism of the American 1950s, remarking on how far the country has come since the depression. Steinbeck himself went further in the years that followed, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature a decade later.

Featured image courtesy of NY Daily News