Tag Archives: John Steinbeck

America’s Ten Favorite Books are Better Than You Expected

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Among the embarrassing surveys of how few Americans can find Ukraine on a map and/or the dismal polls of people who believe the Senate should be controlled by Republicans, this week saw the release of a cultural indicator that actually bears good news.

Tuesday, Harris Interactive published the results of a poll asking Americans which books they love most. The survey — which last ran in 2008 — revealed that The Bible, by God, was America’s favorite. No surprises there, as other studies have clearly shown that Americans largely identify as Christian. The good book maintained the #1 spot it held in 2008, while Gone With the Wind also kept its ranking, coming in again at #2. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter collections (each counted as one book, which is not altogether sporting, if you ask me) traded positions in the #3 and #4 spots, with Potter taking higher honors this year. Other books that appeared on the 2008 list did not fare as well — which is actually the best part. A number of blockbuster novels on the previous list were replaced by a handful of American classics.

Perhaps most interesting is the way the changes from ’08 to now sync up oddly well with the typical evolution of many American readers.

In 2008 we read like eager young adolescents, just starting to take on “big” books (as in 300+ pages, ostensibly written for adults) and devouring anything that caught our interest. This explains our 2008 affinity for Stephen King’s The Stand (#5); the Dan Brown books (Da Vinci Code #6 and Angels and Demons #8); and of course, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a hallmark of enthusiastic youngsters and Congressional staffers discovering the nascent thrill of thinking that they are thinking for themselves.

In 2014, we stepped up our game. We are now reading like older, slightly more sophisticated adolescents.  The Stand has been displaced by To Kill a Mockingbird in the #5 spot, followed by #6 Moby Dick, #7 The Catcher in the Rye, #8 Little Women, #9 The Grapes of Wrath and #10 The Great Gatsby.

This trend indicates that, in the last six years, our nation must have felt the influence of a really important English or Drama teacher, someone who helped us figure out a lot of stuff we were going through recently and who we’re never going to forget. If the trend holds, we should all be getting into experimental fiction and Annie Dillard by 2020.

Whatever the case may be, we should all just be happy that Atlas Shrugged has fallen off the list. For those of you who think that’s bad, well, the last poll was taken in 2008. You know whose fault this is: 

- Michael Moats

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Fiction Advocate of the Day: Google

Steinbeck

Today’s Google doodle celebrates the 112th birthday of John Steinbeck.  And while it passes over what is arguably his greatest work, East of Eden, it is still pretty wonderful.

Happy birthday John Steinbeck.

And while I’m at it, happy birthday to my sister and fellow East of Eden fan Samantha Moats, who continues to remind me of something Steinbeck wrote: “I guess a loving woman is indestructible.”

- Michael Moats

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Inventory: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Why read Moby Dick?
Status: Called

REVIEWS OF “THE ART OF FIELDING” ARE EVERYWHERE, so there’s no need to add another extended solo to the chorus. Simply put, this is an excellent book. It had me up past bedtime turning pages like nothing I’ve read in years.

Harbach writes with an easy depth reminiscent of Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” or Bellow’s “The Adventures of Augie March.” “Fielding” follows in that distinctly American tradition of wildly entertaining philosophical texts, with stories of farmer scholars and noble, soldier poets. It’s a tradition I and many others, including Harbach and his characters, also associate with baseball and it’s athlete philosophers.

There is some flatness in the people, who tend to be drawn from a combination of everyday humanity and the graduate-level humanities of their academic setting, and I have a sense that “Fielding” could have been even better had Harbach packed more into his people and the events that bring them together.  It’s interesting that he didn’t write on and on, since Melville’s expansive and deeply detailed “Moby Dick” is not just an obvious influence, but damn near a character in the story.

Still, it’s hardly a complaint to say — after closing the book and considering how soon you have to be up for work in the morning — that you wish there was more to read.

Do you want to trade paperbacks?

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