Monday, April 11, 2011

Books: East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

It's no secret that I love John Steinbeck. He's my man. I picked up my copy of East of Eden while I was home over Christmas in the hopes of reading something familiar (and I've read To Kill a Mockingbird more times than I can count). I've always loved long, sweeping, epic family stories. I can trace this back to when I thought the Sweet Valley High genealogical super book was fascinating.

I believe there are a few different ways that a book can be good. You can enjoy the style of writing (Dickens), the subject matter (McDougall), or the characters (Lee). One way I tend to judge my books is how captivated I am. In all truth, I tend to look forward to the feeling of accomplishment of finishing a book. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes I'm more in a hurry to finish, than to enjoy the book. But, you know it's an excellent book when you look up and realize that you've reached the 300th page without noticing all those pages fly by.
The spiritual implications in Steinbeck's piece are huge, which can't be surprising with the name of the book. It's been a while since I read the book, and over time I tend to forget details of books I've read. I think on my last reading I was most enchanted with the way Steinbeck writes a story, the colossal story in its entirety, the characters. This time, the Biblical connections were of more interest.

The last word in the book is timshel, and the entire book revolves around this idea. Three of the characters have this conversation at a pivotal point in the book - that the word timshel, in Hebrew, means "thou mayest", not "thou shalt" or "do thou" as so many Bible translations have led us to believe. Timshel gives us permission, instead of telling us what we will do, or commanding us to do something. This word appears in the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4, after God finds Cain, discovers what he has done to Abel, and God tells Cain that although sin is "crouching at the door", timshel rule over sin. Not that he has to, not that he absolutely will, but that he has the ability to do so. One word can change so many things.

I could go on and on with this book review, but I'll stop before I tell everything. I know, I know, I'll read somethin besides Steinbeck soon.

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