Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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***America and Americans

and Selected Nonfiction

by John Steinbeck

Reviewed August 16, 2003.
Viking, New York, 2002.  429 pages.

After the library had this book for a year, with hardly anyone checking it out, I knew it was time to send it back to the book rental company.  I thought I’d read it first, since John Steinbeck is reputed to be such a great writer.

I can see where he gets his reputation.  The writing in this book is excellent.  It covers a small book he wrote called America and Americans, but it also includes essays that he wrote on many different topics over the years.  It’s a very long book.  Although the writing is excellent, it is quietly meditative and it’s easy to read one essay and then put the book down, so it took me weeks to get through the whole thing.  At times I would think I should just give up and turn the book back in, but always something up ahead caught my eye and I kept going.

The topics of the essays cover a wide range of subjects.  There’s a funny piece about his war against the ospreys he had hoped would nest on his property.  There are hard-hitting reports of the conditions of people who moved to California during the Dust Bowl.  There are reports from the front lines of the war in Vietnam and some interesting pieces he wrote in Paris for a French newspaper.

The work is well-written and thought-provoking, even if some of it seems out of date.  There were places where I found myself a bit bothered by his lack of political correctness, but despite his old-fashioned terminology, a surprising number of his thoughts on Americans still apply today.  Perhaps now that Oprah has made a John Steinbeck book the first selection of her new book club, other readers will be interested and I can justify adding this volume to our permanent collection.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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