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What Were They Thinking?

What were authors like John Steinbeck thinking when they wrote some of their most well-received books? You can find out at the College Park Community Library.

According to The Writer’s Almanac, yesterday—March 14—was anniversary of the publication of one of America's most renowned books, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath was published on this date in 1939. The story of the Joad family—migrants who left the dust bowl to find work on the farms of California—was a critical and commercial success, selling nearly half a million copies during its first year of publication. Steinbeck wrote the book in 100 days, and he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for it.

Now, such literary trivia is all well and good, but where can you go to find out what Steinbeck was thinking during those 100 days? Why, you can come to the and crack the cover on Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, a book that, as Robert DeMott puts it in the book’s introduction, records “[Steinbeck’s] private story, with its equally impassioned emphasis on the punishing journey toward artistic fulfillment.”

Working Days … is a tale of dramatic proportions—false starts, self-doubts, whining complaints, paranoia, ironic intentions, personal reversals, and—woven tenuously throughout—the fragile thread of recovery.

Okay, maybe you haven’t read The Grapes of Wrath, which is okay—we’ve got several copies on our shelves, so you can check that out, too. Maybe you’re more familiar with East of Eden (which we also have) and you’re more inclined to wonder what Steinbeck was experiencing and thinking when he wrote that novel. Well, we’ve got you covered there, as well. Right next to Working Days is Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, a book billed as “an extraordinary record of the creation and composition of a novel” and “unique and revealing.”

Unlike Working Days, which is written in typical “journal” format, Journal of a Novel (somewhat paradoxically) is a collection of letters that Steinbeck wrote to Pascal Covici, his close friend and editor, during the time he worked on East of Eden. As explained in the “Publisher’s Note” at the front of the book:

The letter was primarily a method of warming up, flexing the author’s muscles both physical and mental. [Steinbeck] sometimes used it to adumbrate the problems and purposes of the passage on which he was about to embark: “a kind of arguing ground for the story,” as he says once.

Personally, I’ve always been a fan of author journals or notebooks. I find that they help humanize literary greats, transforming them from “cultural giants” or “celebrities” (or both) into “real” people with “real” problems, worries, and concerns—a process that serves to enrich the experience of reading an author’s work.

But don’t take my word for it. Stop by the College Park Community Library, check out our collection of Steinbeck’s work, and see for yourself. Here’s what we currently have to offer:

Fiction:
Cannery Row
Cup of Gold
East of Eden
The Grapes of Wrath
In Dubious Battle
The Long Valley
The Moon Is Down
The Pearl/The Red Pony
Sweet Thursday
To a God Unknown
Tortilla Flat
The Winter of Our discontent
The Wayward Bus
The Short Novels of John Steinbeck
(collection)

Non-fiction:
America and Americans
The Log from the Sea of Cortez
Journal of a Novel: the East of Eden Letters
Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath
Steinbeck: A Life in Letters
Travels with Charley

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