Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Digital Audiobook narrated by Gary Sinise
Published by Penguin Books on January 8, 2002
Genres: Classics, Fiction, Historical, Historical Fiction
Length: 112 pages or 3 hours, 11 minutes
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The compelling story of two outsiders striving to find their place in an unforgiving world. Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream--a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy, becomes a victim of his own strength. Tackling universal themes such as the friendship of a shared vision, and giving voice to America’s lonely and dispossessed, Of Mice and Men has proved one of Steinbeck’s most popular works, achieving success as a novel, a Broadway play and three acclaimed films.
Of Mice and Men is one of those classics taught in so many English classes, and seems well-beloved by everyone I know. So please forgive me when I say… I just don’t see the appeal. The entertainment value of this novel is pretty low for me.
It’s been a long time since group discussion in my ninth grade English class, but even now, I can see the discussion potential of this novel. George and Lenny’s relationship, Lenny’s demeanor, the ending… it’s all ripe for a morality conversation. For such a short book, there’s a lot intended to pull the heartstrings. Lenny’s scene with the puppy, in particular, is powerful.
I believe a book can be powerful and profound without being entertaining. Perhaps Of Mice and Men’s academic use has cheapened it’s impact for me, but that’s never mattered before (Feed and The Secret Life of Bees were both high school reads, and I still love them). And while I enjoy classics, I wouldn’t call myself a classics snob, so if someone wants to jump in and debate this with me, you’re more than welcome. Is Of Mice and Men an interesting read that has affected generations of readers and filmgoers? Yes, of course! Steinbeck is considered a genius in himself. I’ve never read his other books, not even The Grapes of Wrath, but I know enough about literature to know that if I argued he was poor writer, I would lose. He’s clearly not, because his writing inspires these conversations. But I don’t enjoy him.
And that’s okay. I don’t have to love Steinbeck. You can love him and I will not judge you.
Stylistically, Of Mice and Men is simple. There are no flowery descriptions – most the book is told in conversation, making it ripe for translation as a stage play and movie. We know of Lenny’s fear and self-condemnation from an external monologue. We know about George’s frustration the same way. We’re left to infer the setting from comments the characters make.
It’s difficult to relate to the characters and become involved in the story that way. George, frankly, is an asshole. And Lenny is complicated. The reader’s investment comes entirely from the outside, “How could he do that?” – a question that could be asked of any number of characters. I think the subject matter pulls the reader in enough in that way to be successful, but there’s not that sort of warm excitement you get when you’re really rooting for a character. It’s all just a scene that plays out, you know?
Of Mice and Men is worth reading because it’s interesting, and the book is short. This particular audiobook version had some serious feedback in the recording, marking it as an older one, but it was well-read. Only a three-hour read and I was able to listen to the whole thing at work. Don’t get your hopes up for a life-changing story, but as far as classics go, this one is pretty low commitment.
What would you have done in Geroge’s position? I find the end of this book so utterly complicated, especially when you talk about the limitations of the time period. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts under those circumstances!