Tag Archives: california

South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion

Title: South and West: From a Notebook
Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-1524732790
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Joan Didion’s works are not easy to read. But once you read her books, there is no stopping. I remember reading “The Year of Magical Thinking” when it was first published in 2005 and wrenched completely to the gut by its honesty. Since then, I haven’t missed reading a single book by her. My copy of her latest, “South and West: From a Notebook” came all the way from Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, a gift from my sister. Anyhow, now back to the book.

Her essays are introspective unlike her fictional works. Don’t get me wrong here, I adore her writing, just that I feel her non-fiction is stronger than fiction. This thin volume contains two pieces: the first, a collection of assembled jottings in her notebook from a road-trip through the South in 1970; the second piece is about the Patty Hearst trial.

The first piece forms the bulk of the book – with details on everything South as they traverse that landscape – from its swimming pools in motels, to meeting regular people, knowing their views on class and racism (nothing has changed since then or so it seems) to the sedentary life lead there. At the same time, her keen eye for detail and candidness, makes you wish there was more to this book and more so to this piece.

Didion makes the South alive for you – every nuance, twitch of the faces of the people she observes and interacts with to the weather (more so important for the South) is pat down to the last nitpicking detail and as a reader you are only too happy for it. At the same time, you also feel that it could very well have been a travelogue (or is it?) with rich descriptions of the landscape and the minor details that are paid attention to.

What struck me about the book the most is that though written in the 70s, it still is so relevant today given the views of the people in the South – where discrimination – racial and classist are taken as the norm and no one seems to object – it was almost as though this were a warning for the times to come with the current President of the United States of America.

The second piece in the book is too brief – it finishes even before you have started reading it which is quite a pity. It is just a collection of notes and sketches (which of course what the entire book is) and nothing else adds to it. In fact, I had to go to Google to know more about the Patty Hearst trial.

All said and done, “South and West: From a Notebook” is a book which perhaps isn’t meant for all – or I don’t even know if it will be enjoyed by all. I wouldn’t recommend it to a beginner to Joan’s works but for someone who is familiar with her writing, you will love it, just as I did, so please pick it up.

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Book Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Title: Of Mice and Men
Author: John Steinbeck
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0142000670
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 107
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5

“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck is the kind of book that fills you with hope, makes it stay for a while and then reveals the true nature of men and the world we live in, shattering the hope that it started off with.

I had heard a lot about this book and also own it. (It is there somewhere. I cannot seem to find it though.) I thought I would eventually read it and I did not tell I borrowed a copy from the library and finished it in a single sitting. If you do decide not to read it in a single sitting, take it from me, this book will haunt you. It will not let you be till you have completed it. Now to the plot.

Of Mice and Men is the story of two alienated men who work as farm labourers, drifting from job to job in California. Lennie is a gentle giant (who is a little slow). George guides and protects him and depends on him for companionship. They dream of owning a farm one day and tend rabbits. This however is not meant to be. They arrive at a new farm; work with new people, make friends, till the owner’s son’s Curley’s wife ruins it all for them.

The title of the book is from a poem by Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”, which goes: “The best laid schemes of mice and men, go often awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!” Steinbeck draws on these lines in the book very subtly, making sure that the plans do not go as they dreamt of, because after all that is the story.

The narrative is strong and descriptive as is the case in most books written by him. I remember reading East of Eden in a period of two days. I just could not get off the book. Of Mice and Men flows with dialogue and action. The scenes happen so quickly in the book that it sometimes takes the reader by surprise.

You feel sorry for the men. You want them to achieve what they wanted and you know that will not be possible. The writing is so strong that you empathize with them and that’s how a book should be written. The plot is complex but the writing is not and that’s the wonder of the book. Steinbeck almost structured the novel as a play and may be that is why it has been so easy to convert it to play and three movies I guess.

Steinbeck depicts the impossibility of dreams being achieved and explores brotherhoods in humans – the strengths, the weakness in man and sometimes the angst. Of Mice and Men is a classic in every sense that should not be missed. I am glad that I finally read it.

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Here is the trailer of the movie starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise: