1953 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner

My Early Life, 1874-1904

My Early Life, 1874-1904 by Sir Winston S. Churchill, narrated by Frederick Davidson

Sir Winston S. Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953, according to the Nobel Prize website for “his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.” This is a link to his speech if anyone is interested. He wrote 42 books in 72 volumes, and all but 5 were published by 1953.

I’ve been interested in learning about Churchill for awhile now, but was a bit hesitant to try and tackle his massive 6 volume history on World War II or 4 book volume on The History of the English-Speaking People, which are supposed to be excellent but exceedingly long (from over 1700 – 4700 pages). So when I found this autobiography on Audible, I jumped at the chance to get to know more about this great man.

Whenever I think of Winston Churchill, I always think of the much older WWII Prime Minister version of the man, the bulldog-looking man with a cigar in one hand, getting down to business (as the image above attests). But of course that is how he is remembered from the end of his life, so it was intriguing to get a glimpse of his early life. In fact, when my son was a baby we used to call him Winston Churchill in the gruff voice one associates with the man because he looked like the grumpy old man.

Jennie and Randolph (Winston’s parents)

Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born prematurely at his family’s ancestral home of Blenheim Palace (I have been there and it’s gorgeous especially in the English springtime) in Oxford, England to Lady Jennie Jerome (one of the many American heiresses who came over in the late 19th century looking for rich English husbands, one of the “Dollar Princesses”) and Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill on Nov 30, 1874. Winston is the oldest of two boys. He thought of his mother as a “fairy princess,” and she was a great beauty in her youth. Winston spent his early years, until age four, in Ireland before coming back to England to attend a boarding school in Ascot, and later Harrow School and Sandhurst Military Academy. It is interesting to note that it took him four tries to get into Sandhurst and he taught himself advanced mathematics in four months to accomplish this. At Sandhurst, Winston trained to be in the cavalry, contrary to his father wishes for him to join the infantry, and enlisted in the 4th Hussars in February 1895 as a 2nd Lieutenant. His father passes away a few months later, probably of a brain tumor.

Churchill in 4th Hussars gear, 1895

Churchill in his new 4th Hussars uniform, 1895

Winston is first stationed with the cavalry in India from late 1896-1899 and it was here that he really started playing polo in earnest. Unfortunately, he had to stop playing after injuring his shoulder (an injury that plagued him for the rest of his life), but not before he led his team to a championship against the all-India team. But like all young men, he was anxious to see some military action and decided to go to Cuba as a war correspondent during the 1898 Cuban War of Independence from Spain. He is there for a grand total of sixteen days, as a guest of the Spanish military. It is interesting to note here that despite his grandfather being the 7th Duke of Marlborough, his immediate family was pretty broke by the time he joined the cavalry, which is why he supplemented his income by writing books and becoming a war correspondent for the newspaper the Morning Post for many years. I assumed (apparently wrongly) that he would’ve attended Oxford or Cambridge like other members of the upper class. But aside from attending Harrow and Sandhurst, he was entirely self-taught.Winston actually called this period, “the university of his life,” and he became extremely well-read. Consequently,  he was well-known for his cleverness. His mother sent him scores of books and he educated himself in his spare time. History was Winston’s favorite subject, which became apparent later in life when he won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to authority on the subject. He published his first book The Story of the Malakand Field Force in 1898, which was about his experiences in the cavalry in India in 1896, for which he won the India Medal.

With the help of his mother’s social connections, he was allowed to go the Sudan in Omdurman/Khartoum under the leadership of General Herbert Kitchener (who made his name famous with the victory at this battle). Apparently Kitchener really didn’t want him to go and expressly forbade him to do so, and so therefore Jennie Churchill was a real worker of miracles in knowing everyone important and getting her eldest son where he wanted to go. Winston’s life was saved by his Mauser pistol, which he had to use instead of a sword, because of his previous polo shoulder injury. According to the Churchill Centre, “It was a very violent battle. The British suffered 175 casualties, their Egyptian allies 307; but the Dervish force had 9,700 killed, between 10,000 and 16,000 wounded and 5,000 taken prisoner. For Churchill’s service in the Sudan, amounting to six or eight weeks, he received the Queen’s Sudan Medal and the Khedive’s Sudan Medal with clasp for “Khartoum.” He later in Nov 1899 published The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan, a history of the campaign, his most ambitious book to date, and still today one of his greatest books.”


Afterwards, he returned to India for about six months.  Churchill resigned from the army in April 1899 to start his political career. He promptly lost his first election and decided to again become a war correspondent for the Morning Post newspaper, this time in South Africa during the Second Boer War of 1899-1902. Now this is a war that I have never truly understood until I was listening to this autobiography and learnt that the whole fight with the Dutch in the Transvaal was over gold mining. This, to me at least, seems rather typical of the late British Empire (especially if you think of all the trouble they had in India, the rest of Africa and Asia because they couldn’t give up control of the colonies to the natives and their determination to hold onto the colonies to “protect” them from other European superpowers).

Churchill as war correspondent for Boer War, South Africa 1899

 Churchill as war correspondent in South Africa, 1899

Winston was captured by the Boers, aka the Afrikaners or the descendants of the original Dutch settlers in South Africa, on an armored train and taken to a POW camp in Pretoria (the Boer capital city) in Nov 1899. About a month later he makes a daring escape, as explained again by the Churchill Centre, “He climbed over the prison wall, hopped a freight train, hid in a coal mine and, with the help of friendly Englishmen, eventually rode another train to freedom over the border to Portuguese East Africa.” You would think he would decide to just return home after that ordeal, but instead he decided to obtain a cavalry commission in the South African Light Horse. He also obtained a commission for his younger brother Jack, who was promptly wounded. Churchill publishes his first and only fictionalized novel, Savrolain February 1900. “He was to write two books about his South African adventures: London to Ladysmith Via Pretoria (published May 1900), featuring the armored train incident for which he first became famous, with the train depicted on its cover, and Ian Hamilton’s March (the sequel to Ladysmith, published later the same year in Oct) was based on his newspaper articles.” He left Africa in July 1900, famous worldwide because of his adventures in South Africa, and won his first seat in the House of Commons at age 25.

Churchills Wanted Poster in South Africa

Churchill’s Wanted Poster (in Dutch and English) after he escaped the POW Camp in Pretoria, South Africa

Soon after becoming a member of the House of Commons, in December 1900, Winston goes on a lecture tour of the United States, Canada, and England for a year. He meets one of his idols, Mark Twain in Boston, Massachusetts. He is earning more than any other journalist and rakes in $10,000 in one year, a princely sum at the time, and promptly invests it. His first speech in the House of Commons is on Feb 18, 1901 and was very successful. Winston published another book, Mr. Brodrick’s Army in April 1903, which was a collection of his speeches on Army reform. He meets his future wife Clementine in March 1904 and according to the Churchill Centre, “is transfixed and tongue-tied; Clementine however is unimpressed.” And that’s pretty much where this first part of his autobiography ends. For more basic info on the great man and all that he achieved, I would recommend the Churchill Centre’s timeline.


Winston with his fiancee Clementine Hozier, 1908

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and listening to Winston’s story, which was alternatively gripping and a bit tedious, especially when describing all the army skirmishes in India and South Africa. It’s kind of amazing that this man accomplished so much so young and did all of it before he was 25, not to mention the fact that he was completely self-educated past secondary school. I’m curious to know more about him and read some of his actual works, perhaps the novel or some poetry. 4 stars.


1957 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner

The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward, narrated by Jonathan Davis

Originally published 1942, translation done in 1989

Albert Camus (pronounced “Alber Camu”)was born on November 7, 1913 in Mondavi, French Algeria. He grew up poor with his mother in Algiers after his father died during World War I. He attended the University of Algiers and studied philosophy, which is what he got his undergraduate and graduate degrees in. It was during his college years that he joined the Communist party and later the French Anarchist movement. It was during WWII, in his work with the French Resistance, that he met Jean Paul Satre, who also wrote political commentary on the war. According to Biography.com, “In 1945, he was one of the few Allied journalists to condemn the American use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. He was also an outspoken critic of communist theory, eventually leading to a rift with Sartre.” Camus’s work was rife with absurdism, aka the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe. He preferred not to call it existentialism, as that is what he felt Sartre dealt with instead. Camus was married and divorced twice, and seemed to dislike marriage as a whole. He died January 4, 1960 in Burgundy, France.

The actual story is about a young Algerian man named Mersault who is ambivalent about everything. His mother dies in the very beginning of the book and he goes to the funeral but is bored by it. When he returns home the next day, he continues with his life by starting an affair with a woman named Marie from his office and they go to see a comedy. She asks him later on if he loves her and he responds “Probably not,” but they still agree to get married. He becomes friends with Raymond, an upstairs neighbor and even vouches for the man as a witness with the police he abuses his girlfriend for cheating on him. In a way, hanging out with Raymond leads to his downfall. Raymond’s now ex-girlfriend’s Arab brother and the brother’s friends have started fights with Raymond, one of which Mersault was involved with. He and Raymond are at the beach that day, and later on as he is walking down the beach and the sun is beating down on him, Mersault sees the Arab brother and shoots him five times killing him. He is of course arrested and a trial ensues. The prosecution manages to convey that he is a heartless individual based on the way he handled his mother’s funeral and his subsequent actions. He is sentenced to death by guillotine. Recommended for ages 15+, 3 stars.

I was not sure at all how to review this book as I wasn’t 100% sure that I understood the complexities that Camus was trying to convey with this seemingly simple short book. At first glance it seems to be talking about the absurdity of life and humans in general, and how we’re all going to die anyways so we might as well be happy, but I’m sure people have read/taught it many times probably think it is way more. As this reviewer has said: “Digesting the content will certainly take much longer [than the afternoon it takes to read it] as this little novel raises serious questions about morality, society, justice, religion, and individuality.” The one part I did enjoy about the book was at the very end as he is awaiting his execution and has the encounter with the priest. As this article says, “His only advantage, if any, is that he knows that he does not know anything except the succession of events that was his life. This certainty he cannot betray. That is why he revolts so violently against the priest who comes to console him. Consolation would mean substituting something else for the bare truth.” “

1954 Nobel Prize for Literature Winner


These are books for my Nobel Prize Challenge. My first review was Toni Morrison’s Sulaand now my current review will be on Ernest Hemingway and his 1937 book To Have and Have Not and his 1952 novella The Old Man and the Sea. 

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, 1944

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, 1944

I honestly picked To Have and Have Not because of the 1944 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I haven’t seen all of it, but the scenes I have seen between them were smoking, so I figured why not give it a try as it sounded pretty good. Only problem is the film is set during World War II and is about getting away from Nazis, whereas the book is set in Depression era Key West and is about early Cuban revolutionaries. Hemingway originally wrote the book as a 2 short stories and a novella, and really only came about because of a contractual agreement with his publisher. I always thought of Hemingway as a man’s man, because he is almost always pictured shooting large game on a safari or bullfighting, and he worked as a foreign war correspondant for a newspaper before he became a writer. He was married four times, suffered from depression in later life and eventually committed suicide.

There are flashes of brilliance in the writing, but it is overshadowed by the tangintial storyline with rambles on and on. The whole book seems really disjointed because it starts out with Harry Morgan’s story, which was kind of fascinating, but then kept jumping into secondary stories like Richard Gordon, his wife, and the Professor who broke up their marriage. As Andrew Blackman said in his review of the book, “The main problem with the book is that it is schizophrenic. It’s a cross between an adolescent high-seas adventure story and a social analysis of the effects of the Great Depression. The writing style, too, is schizophrenic, lurching from first person to third person, from one character’s point of view to another’s.” Ok, I realize that this book was written in 1937 and being racist back in the day was considered socially acceptable, but it is kind of hard to read in the 21st century. Literally for the first five minutes of the audiobook, all the narrator said was the N-word. There are other racist episodes, which include more uses of the “N-word” and derogatory terms for Chinese and Cubans. Hemingway is also generally sexist towards women as well in the text, regarding them as frivilous and stupid.

To Have and Have Not

On to the actual storyline of To Have and Have Not. Harry Morgan is a down-on-his-luck fisherman who takes rich folks deep sea fishing off the Florida Keys. After his last pickup broke one his fishing poles and then skipped out on paying for it, and seeing as he has a wife and three daughters to support at home, he decides to take some illegal work, including ferrying Chinese workers to Cuba, smuggling liquor, and providing a getaway for Cuban gangsters who have stolen money from Key West to fund the revolution in Cuba. It becomes pretty obvious, early on, that Harry and his “rummy” (alcoholic) crew-members are part of the “have-not” crowd who have to struggle to survive, while the rich white men he takes out fishing or that stay in their yachts in the harbor are the “haves”.  The book is pretty dismal and sad, although I was never quite sure if I should root for Harry or not, as most of the trouble he got into was his own fault. One thing I did really like about the book is the relationship between Harry and his wife. Though obviously not a looker, Marie Morgan tries her best and keeps her bleached blonde look up for her husband. They seem to have a tender loving relationship, despite his prickly exterior and attitude to everything else. She is completely devastated at the end of the book when Harry’s actions ultimately lead to his death. 2-1/2 stars.

Old man and the sea

I decided that maybe I should read something a bit better from Hemingway, as he seems to actually be a good writer, but I may have picked his worst book. So I decided to read Old Man and the Sea to get a different perspective on Hemingway as a writer. Ok, I will admit that after reading the book, I am still not a Hemingway fan. I just couldn’t get into it. The story is about a decrepit old man who has been a fisherman all his life. He used to have a little boy who helped him but since his luck has run out, the boy is working for someone else. The old man has not caught any fish for eighty-four days (equals out to about 2-1/2 months, which if fishing is your livelihood, is a bloody long time). The boy trys to take care of him and make sure he is fed. The old man goes out in the morning, determined to get a fish today and he ends up battling the father of all swordfish for about 3 days before he finally manages to skewer it. Only problem is that because it is bleeding, this attracts three sharks that eat it before he can make it to land. By the time he does, only the head and skeleton are attached to the old man’s boat. You want the old man to succeed because he has had such a hard time of it and battling this enormous fish for three days, and also slowly going a bit crazy. But at the same time, you know he is doomed to failure. It was a depressing and sad book. Recommended for ages 14+, 2-1/2 stars.

June 2015 Book Reviews

I’ve been reading a lot of really long books lately, and so haven’t read as much as I usually do. In fact, according to Goodreads, I’m constantly about 9 books behind schedule for the year. I apologize in advance for all the book titles in bold, I’m having a bit of a formatting issue on this post and this was the only way to really make them show up. I am currently reading Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon, which was a little slow in the beginning but is finally starting to pick up a bit. I have really been enjoying that particular author’s books, but the first one was the shortest at over 550 pages and I think this one is 1000.  I started going to a book club last month which a work colleague originally started a few months before and enjoyed it, so I look forward to reading more books for it. I am listening to Albert Camus’s The Stranger on audiobook, which is really odd so far.

I also have restarted my Nobel Prize Challenge, which I started back in Sept 2014. Basically it just means that I have to choose one book/poem/play written by a Nobel Prize for Literature winner, read it and write a review of it. I had previously read only 5 books from  111 winners, plus 1 poem from another winner, so I have a lot to read. I decided to do it as I didn’t know most of the winners and I thought it would be fascinating. This will take me a long time, but I’m okay with that. This month I have managed to get through two more, and working on a third.

On to the book reviews. I rate books from 1-5 stars, 1 being the lowest. I will include illustrations from the children’s books I enjoyed.


Freddie & Gingersnap Find a Cloud to Keep written and illustrated by Vincent X. Hirsch

Freddie and Gingersnap Find a Cloud to Keep

This was a bit of an unusual book but I enjoyed it and so did my son. Freddie is a dinosaur and Gingersnap is a dragon, and they are both flying looking for a cloud for Freddie. Gingersnap keeps explaining that it is impossible. They happen upon two children, a boy and girl in a hot air zepplin who are singing about home. They’ve never seen a dragon and a dinosaur before and so have a billion questions. The kids decide to show them a little magic and suddenly they are all in a lightning storm. They sing until the storm disappears and they find their way back to their homes. Freddie sings their song after they go. The words/lyrics/music are written by the author and included in the back of the book. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Today I Will Fly! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Piggie is determined to fly, even though Gerald doesn’t believe she can do it. She starts by getting a dog to chase her, but only succeeds in jumping really high (as pointed out by Gerald of course). But it was a very high jump. After Gerald leaves, Piggie decides she needs help and enlists a bird (I’m guessing a pelican) to help her. Soon floating underneath the bird, tied to a string and Gerald is convinced she is flying. Now he wants to try it himself. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Watch Me Throw the Ball! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Watch Me Throw the Ball

Gerald is way too serious about learning to throw the ball, whereas Piggie is just there to have fun. She throws the ball and it ends up going behind her and she thinks she is the greatest thrower ever and keeps making up all these things like calling herself “Super Pig” and making up little chants. It is up to Gerald to break the news to her gently.But she doesn’t care, she had a lot of fun doing it. Gerald me think of adults and how we tend to take things too seriously. Then of course, Gerald wants to have a little fun himself. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Big Plans written by Bob Shea, illustrated by Lane Smith

I discovered this book on a website while trying to come up with some new books to check out in the children’s area. Honestly most of the appeal for me where the Lane Smith illustrations. I thought it was pretty cute, but it does go on for way too long. It’s all about this little boy who is always getting in trouble. While in his latest punishment in the classroom, he declares that he “has plans, big plans I say!” and that continues to be his mantra for the rest of the book. He means business, and puts on his dad’s shiniest tie and pointiest shoes for emphasis. He recruits a mynah bird to join him in his endeavors. He takes over a corporate board meeting and all the big-wigs listen to him because he speaks with such authority. He takes their helicopter, driven by the mynah bird, and heads over to the local football game to help the team beat the out-of-towners. Then he flies to the moon and puts his mantra there for the whole world to see when he flies back. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Chu’s Day at the Beach written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex Chus-Day-at-the-Beach-internal-shot-2

I love the Chu books, although this one didn’t have as much pizzazz as the other two books in the series. However, the illustrations by Adam Rex were still awesome, cute and hilarious. Chu and his parents are going to the beach, and everything is going alright until the inevitable happens and he sneezes. He does it so hard that he literally breaks the ocean, parting it in two and the fish and other marine life (including merpandas!) are trapped on both sides unable to get through. The beach goers need to make him sneeze again so that everything can be put right, but for the first time ever, Chu can’t seem to sneeze. It’s not until Tiny the snail suggests that the bright sunlight might help him, and Chu takes off his sunglasses and immediately sneezes. Everything is relatively back to normal, or as normal as it can be with the hurricane force sneeze that flips everything around (my favorite is his parents who have actually switched bathing suits). Chu still has the best day ever. My son loved this book. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Rules of Summer written and illustrated by Shaun Tan

I had seen this book on the Guardian’s children books readers had read for April or May 2015, and hoped that we had a copy at our library. We did, so I grabbed it for me to read to my son. I love Shaun Tan’s work usually, but this one just didn’t grab me the way he others have in the past. The book gave rules that two boys learned during one summer, and shows an event and the the effect of that event. For example, they boys go to catch some shooting stars and one of the boys drops his jar, and the text says “Never drop your jar”. The pictures got darker the further the story went. I think my son enjoyed it more than me. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars

I Am Albert Einstein (Ordinary People Change the World) written by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos I Am Albert Einstein

I also found this book while browsing children’s review websites. I fell in love with the illustrations before I even read it, but they were even more adorable once you got into the story especially as they showed Einstein as a baby with white hair and a mustache. I loved that the first major thing he says is “My hair is awesome!” and other people mention it throughout the book. It was a basic biography of the scientist, but a nice introduction for children who may have not heard of him and what he did to change the world. Einstein thought in pictures instead of words (which made him take a very long time to speak his mind) and his fascination with a compass his father gave him plus music kept his curiosity alive throughout his life and wanting to keep asking questions. I loved the Einstein quote at the end of the book. Recommended for ages 6-10, 5 stars.

Children and Young Adult

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Young Adult

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck


The Bones of You by Debbie Howells

The Book of Speculation written and illustrated by Erika Swyler

Yes Please! by Amy Poehler

This book was the first book I read for the new all-female book club I recently joined with a colleague from work. It wasn’t so much of a memoir as a stream-of-consciousness glimpse into Ms. Poehler’s life and career as a comedienne. Plus a lot of name-dropping. I honestly knew next to nothing about her other than she was on SNL and also that show Parks and Recreation, which I didn’t find all that funny. The only things I could latch onto with this book was a quote she made early in the book on page 20, about being a plain girl and learning to accept that, and her sentiments regarding her kids and being a mom. 2 stars.

The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel (Outlander #1.5) written by Diana Gabaldon, illustrated by Hoang Nguyen DG_exile_spread

This was supposed to be Outlander from Jamie’s perspective instead of Claire’s, but it ended up basically just being that book in graphic novel form. That in and of itself is interesting, but I privately call it the “big boobs” graphic novel as that is pretty much all you get out of Claire (you can see what I mean in the pic above). It was touted as 1.5 in the series, in-between Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, and that would’ve actually been more intriguing as book 2 was rather long and way too slow until the end. 2-1/2 stars.

Voyager (Outlander #3) by Diana Gabaldon

Voyager takes place twenty years after Claire went through the stones, pregnant with Jamie’s daughter Brianna. She gives birth to her back in the 1940s and stays married to Frank, who doesn’t believe her story, but wants to take care of Brianna. So they live together for twenty years until he dies and she goes to Scotland with her daughter to try to tell her the truth about her real father. While there, she enlists the help of Roger Wakefield, Reverend Wakefield’s adopted son (who was a small boy in Outlander) and is now a full-grown Oxford historian taking care of the Reverend’s personal effects after his death. He falls hard for Brianna and agrees to help them. They find out that Jamie survived and decides to go through the stones to find him in Edinburgh, where he has set himself up as a printer/smuggler. After a smuggling operation goes bad and his nephew Ian is abducted by pirates, Jamie and Claire set off in one of his cousin Jared’s boats from France to the West Indies to find Ian. Will they be able to live together after so long a separation? Will they be able to find Ian? To find out, read this amazing third book in the series.

Ok yeah, I was pretty pissed off when I thought the author killed off Jamie at the end of the second book, and she was vindicated when it turns out that he survived after Culloden. I actually liked this book slightly better than Outlander because Claire was less whiny (despite the crazy situations her and Jamie always seem to get into, and there are a lot) and a bit less sure of herself as it has been so long since they’ve seen each other. But they fell right back into trouble and had no problem with the long separation. For some reason, older Jamie seems so much more appealing than younger Jamie. I’m sure he’s hotter, although I’m not sure how that’s possible. Geillis Duncan made a very surprising appearance at the end of the book and I’m still not 100% sure if she is actually dead, although I’m sure she’ll pop up in the story again at some point. I found the meeting between Lord John Grey and Claire fascinating, and I’m sure he’ll pop up in the next book as his feelings for Jamie were definitely evident in books 2 and 3. I adored the pledge that Jamie makes at the end of the book to always be with Claire, le sigh. The only thing I did think was a little weird was that she was able to bring back items from the future into the past, other than her clothes, i.e. photos and medicine.

1962 Nobel Prize for Literature winner

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, 1942 – audiobook version narrated by Gary Sinise

I had first read Steinbeck when I was about 11 or 12. We had to read The Pearl (1947) in middle school, and I remember enjoying it. So when I found out he had won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, I jumped at the chance to read another one of his books. I had heard from many people that Of Mice and Men was one of his best works, so I decided to give it a chance. I know most American teenagers probably read it in high school. According to the National Steinbeck Center, “Despite its long-term popularity, Of Mice and Men was banned in many schools and libraries for vulgarity and what some consider offensive and racist language. The novella appears on the American Library Association’s Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century.” It is also interesting to note that 90% of teenagers in Britain have to read it as well because it is “Short, comprising only six chapters, and its themes continue to be considered relevant to 21st Century society.” I’m beginning to think it is a conspiracy that the Nobel committee only chooses authors who write depressing books, or at least that is what I feel like so far in this reading challenge. Maybe it is just from the subject matter they pick to write about, and yes I know it is based off their own person experiences as well. I will make an exception for Pablo Neruda, who while he does have some sad poems, most of his poems are joyous.

US novelist John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968).   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

US novelist John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

John Steinbeck seemed to have a relatively comfortable childhood around Salinas, California (where at least four of his books are based) and had some of a college education. After publishing his first seven or so books, Steinbeck, like Ernest Hemmingway, was also a war correspondant. Steinbeck during World War II and Hemingway with WWI and the Spanish-American War. It is interesting to note that he wrote the screenplay for the movie Lifeboat in 1944, for director Alfred Hitchcock, only to have it drastically changed after he finished it. He tried unsuccessfully to remove his name from the credits. He also wrote the screenplay for Viva Zapata in 1952, about the life of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, which starred Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn. He wrote the book East of Eden, one of his most famous works, which was later turned into the film that starred a young James Dean.

The book Of Mice and Men is about two migrant farm workers named George Milton and Lenny Small in California during the Great Depression. They couldn’t be more different. George is short, quick-thinking, and in charge of the two. Lenny is a big gentle man who has the mentality of a small child. He cannnot fend for himself, and so must travel around California with his friend George. Both men dream of getting a small farm together where they can grow their own food, tend their own animals and “live off the fat of the land”. Lenny is particularly fixated on getting to tend the rabbits. According to the National Steinbeck Center, “A strong desire for the stability and refuge of companionship motivates most of the action in the novella, and the break of the strong homosocial bond between George and Lennie constitutes the work’s closing tragedy. The close friendship between the two men and the simplicity and tenderness of their dream makes Of Mice and Men a compelling psychological glimpse into the lives of migrant field workers, setting the novella apart from Steinbeck’s later, far more encompassing work, The Grapes of Wrath.”

George and Lenny have to quickly leave their last job after a misunderstanding between Lenny and a little girl. They are heading towards a new job in Salinas, California where they will be harvesting grain. We soon meet the other men that work at the ranch. Slim, the foreman, is the leader of their work team and one that everyone respects. Candy is an old man with an even older dog who lost his hand in an accident and is constantly worrying that he will get fired because of his age. Carlson is one of the ranch hands that hates Candy’s dog because of its smell and volunteers to shoot it to put it out of its misery (which of course Candy resents him for). Curley is short, claims he is a prizefighter and is always trying to pick fights with the other men on the ranch because he thinks everyone is messing with his wife. He is the ranch owner’s son, and is married to a young girl who all the men call a tramp, but is really lonely and desires companionship. Crooks is the black stable hand who feels slighted by the other men because of the color of his skin. Candy asks George and Lenny if he can join them on their farm as he has money for a down payment and they agree to have him along to do odd jobs. Slim’s dog has a litter of puppies and Lenny begs for one, and later Slim has to send Lenny away from the barn for petting it too much. Curley takes a dislike to Lenny from the beginning because he is large and tries to pick a fight with him after failing to start one with Slim for hanging around his woman, which gets his hand accidentally crushed by Lenny. Slim tells Curley not to tell the boss about what Lenny did to him and try to get George or Lenny fired, or he will become the laughingstock of the entire ranch for getting his hand crushed by a simpleton. The next night all but Lenny, Candy and Crooks go to a brothel in town. Lenny wanders into Crooks’ room on the side of the barn and talks to him about his dream of living on the farm and tending rabbits, and Crooks foreshadows the end of the book by telling him that he’s heard many men over the years with the same dream who never make it. Candy comes in and convinces Crooks that what Lenny has told them is true. Crooks asks to join them, but they are interrupted by Curley’s wife. She leaves after learning that all the men have gone to the brothel. Alone in the barn the next day, George accidentally shakes his puppy to death after it bites him. He is a bit traumatized by it and frantic because he doesn’t want Lenny to not let him take care of the rabbits on their imagined farm. Curly’s wife walks in and tries to flirt with Lenny, who of course doesn’t really want to talk to her because of George’s previous warnings to stay away from her. He tells her he likes soft things and she offers her silky hair for him to touch. After a short time, she thinks he is messing up her curls and yells at him to stop. He panics, holds on tighter and then puts a hand over her mouth to quiet her down. In their struggle, he accidentally breaks her neck. He is again devastated at his actions because he fears George taking away his rabbit tending rights, and runs away to cover his tracks. George quickly finds out what he has done, and he tells Candy to tell the others. Once Curley finds out, he plots revenge and wants to shoot George in punishment. Lenny manages to get their first and does what he feels is right. Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars.

I liked George and Lenny’s relationship, which was definitely not the most traditional but it worked for them. Each of them needed companionship and the other filled that role. Lenny could not survive without George and despite George’s objections, I don’t think he wants to live without Lenny. I always feel drawn to characters like Lenny who have mental disabilities as I had a cousin that I was close to growing up that was the same way and I never saw her as different and always treated her the same as everyone else. I liked Slim, who seems to be the only one who has sense. There was a fair amount of cursing, but considering that nearly all of the characters were men and given their profession and lack of education, it is not surprising. Unlike Hemingway, whose book To Have and Have Not was written about the same time (four years earlier) and had similar terminology relating to racism and sexism, and set during the Great Depression, I thought the language was way better in this book. It was actually a joy to read, aside from the depressing storyline. I will admit that I teared up at the end of the book, sitting in my car in the dark to finish it up before I came inside my house last night. I look forward to reading more Steinbeck in the future, and it’s looking like I might try to read East of Eden as two people have recommended it to me.