East of Eden Readalong BadgeI’m supposed to be farther along than I am in East of Eden by John Steinbeck, so I’m going to do a quick discussion post and get back to reading, although it may be too late for me to catch up! For other discussion posts by others who have reached this checkpoint in the East of Eden Readalong, visit The Estella Society here.

Now, on to the discussion questions for Chapters 14-27. There will be some spoilers if you haven’t read this book, but not too many:

1. What do you think of the characters’ growth and/or change in this section? Specifically, Adam, Cathy/Kate, and Lee have all had some big things happen.
I was surprised that Charles dropped by the wayside once Adam moved west, but I guess his part in the story had already been played and his influence on Adam’s future would eventually be felt from afar. I had less empathy for Cathy/Kate in this section because even though the narrator tells us her evil nature is genetic and not her fault, it’s impossible not to recoil from a person like her. Lee and Samuel – growing old separately and not seeing each other often – are the most sympathetic of all the main characters and are the role models Adam needs.

2. Lee is quickly becoming an important and insightful character. What do you think of his insights and his thoughts on language and his ethnicity?
I love Lee and his sharp insights into human nature and how people think about people who are different from them! At first I thought how unfortunate it was that he remains a servant for so long, caught in a trap of responsibility and love (?) for the neglected twins, and I wish he weren’t so subservient, but his intelligence finds an outlet soon enough and his selfless nature makes seem more powerful than Adam, despite being his servant.

3. The Cain and Abel and the importance of narrative continues to take on more prominence. How so?
The Cain and Abel story is deceptively simple, and there is light shed on it in this section, but this question is too complicated to go into now! I need to get back to reading. Look to see if others have answered this question better, or go read the book yourself!

4. How do you perceive Samuel now that he’s gone? Was he just a device for delivering advice?
Nooooooooo! I am so sad at this point. I don’t perceive Samuel as a mere plot device, at all! He confessed something at the end, but that made him seem all the more valiant and pure-hearted to me. He was much more than a talker or dispenser of advice, he was a father and a do-er.

5. Cathy/Kate…expound. There will probably be one of these at every checkpoint because OMGthatwoman.
Without Cathy/Kate, Cal and Aron would not have been born. That may, in the end, have been a good thing for all concerned, but from her conscience-less existence, two new lives have sprung; given the parallels drawn between Cal and Aron and Cain and Abel, odds are good that one of those lives (poor Cal and poor Aron) will be very, very bad.

 6. Anything else?
One character I would have liked to see more of, and hope that we will in the remainder of the book, is Liza Hamilton, Samuel’s wife, whom he calls “Mother”. This passage is from Chapter 16:

“Samuel came in from the yard where he had been washing himself. His face and beard gleamed with water, and he turned down the sleeves of his blue shirt as he entered the kitchen. Rolled-up sleeves at the table were not acceptable to Mrs. Hamilton. They indicated either an ignorance or a flouting of the niceties.
‘I’m late, Mother,’ Samuel said.
She did not look around at him. Her spatula moved like a striking snake and the hot cakes settled their white sides hissing on the soapstone. ‘What time was it you came home?’ she asked.
‘Oh, it was late – late. Must have been near eleven. I didn’t look, fearing to waken you.’
‘I did not waken,’ Liza said grimly. ‘And maybe you can find it healthy to rove all night, but the Lord God will do what He sees fit about that.’ It was well known that Liza Hamilton and the Lord God held similar convictions on nearly every subject. She turned and reached and a plate of crisp hot cakes lay between Tom’s hands. ‘How does the Sanchez place look?’ she asked.

 

East of Eden Readalong BadgeSo, somehow I signed on to read East of Eden this summer as part of The Estella Project Read-a-Long. (Peer pressure in book blogging circles is subtle, but powerful.)

Everyone knows East of Eden is a classic novel by John Steinbeck from the 1950s, but do you know how long it is? 601 pages. I’m also trying to read these two doorstoppers this summer, not to mention 1Q84 (1184 pages!):

cover image

544 pages

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848 pages

Here goes with the discussion questions for Chapters 1-13:

1. What do you think of the style of Steinbeck’s writing? Readable and awesome, or slow and slogging?
Very readable! The narrator’s voice is quietly ironic, and the shifts from first-person into third-person, and every now and then back into first, are intriguing, making me wonder who is narrating the story. This is from Chapter 6 when Charles has been alone for a long time, with Adam gone into the Army:

“His dark face took on the serious expressionlessness of a man who is nearly always alone. He missed his brother more than he missed his mother and father. He remembered quite inaccurately the time before Adam went away as the happy time, and he wanted it to come again.”

2. We have a wicked case of sibling rivalry going on here. What are your thoughts on Adam and Charles’ relationship thus far? Their father’s influence?
Adam and Charles are half-brothers and the dysfunction between them starts early, helped along by their father, but Adam doesn’t feel any sibling rivalry, apparently – only Charles, who is poisoned by thoughts that their father favors Adam, the first-born, and hates Adam for it.

3. Just….Cathy. Expound.
She’s the serpent in the garden? Although the farm and the brothers’ relationship was hardly idyllic before Cathy arrives!

“It is my belief that Cathy Ames was born with the tendencies, or lack of them, which drove and forced her all of her life. Some balance wheel was misweighted, some gear out of ratio. She was not like other people, never was from birth. And just as a cripple may learn to utilize his lack so that he becomes more effective in a limited field than the uncrippled, so did Cathy, using her difference, make a painful and bewildering stir in her world.”

Visit The Estella Society for links to other Installment #1 discussion posts from the East of Eden Read-Along.

 

 

cover imageThe Vacationers by Emma Straub is the perfect beach read for people who like their escapist reading to take them to a villa in Mallorca on a family vacation with two generations of family, along with a long-time family friend, all suffering individually and/or as couples from first-world problems. Sun, sexy Europeans, Scrabble, and great meals are all included. Emma Straub, you can take me on vacation again anytime!

Inveterate New Yorkers Jim and Franny Post, a married couple on the verge of divorce, are taking one last summer vacation together with Sylvia – their teenage daughter who will head off to college in the fall – and Bobby – their older son – Bobby’s girlfriend, Carmen (the only outsider, i.e. non-New Yorker), and Franny’s old friend Charles and his boyfriend (now husband), Lawrence – who are both secretly waiting to hear about adopting a child.

I dogeared many pages of my advance reading copy to make note of sharp observations or cleverly worded descriptions that made me laugh, but I’ll just share just a couple of passages to give you a feel for the author’s style. This passage (a peek into Jim’s thoughts) is from just after they’ve arrived at the gorgeous two-story house on sunny, palatial grounds, and Jim sees Franny has settled in to sunbathe by the pool, looking relaxed:

“To say that Franny had been uptight in the preceding month would be too delicate, too demure. She had been ruling the Post house with an iron sphincter. Though the trip had been meticulously planned in February, months before Jim’s job at the magazine had slid out from under him, the timing was such that Fran could be counted on to have at least one red-faced scream per day. The zipper on the suitcase was broken, Bobby and Carmen’s flights (booked on Post frequent-flier points) were costing them hundreds of dollars in fees because they had to shift the flights back a day. Jim was always in the way and in the wrong. Franny was expert in showing the public her good face, and once Charles arrived, it would be nothing but petting and cooing, but when she and Jim were alone, Franny could be a demon. Jim was grateful that, at least for the time being, Franny’s horns seemed to have vanished back inside her skull.”

And this one, from the middle of the book, setting a scene where we find out what Carmen, Bobby’s girlfriend, is thinking:

“The chest in the living room had been well stocked with board games: Monopoly and Risk, Snakes and Ladders. Charles had made a brief but impassioned speech in favor of a game of charades but was quickly shot down. They decided on Scrabble, and Lawrence was winning, being the best at math, which everyone knew was all it took to truly succeed. He knew all the two-letter words, the QI and the ZA, and played them without apology, even when it made the board so dense that it was difficult for anyone else to take a turn. Bobby, Sylvia, and Charles all stared hard at their letters, as if simple attention alone would improve their odds.”

I enjoyed the family tensions, understated drama, and the witty humor of The Vacationers so much, I’m sorry that I haven’t already read the author’s two earlier books: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures and Other People We MarriedThe Vacationers has blurbs on the back cover from Maria Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette), Maggie Shipstead (Seating Arrangements), and Elizabeth Gilbert (The Signature of All Things). It reminded me a bit of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter; so if you liked that, you might like this one too.

Add The Vacationers to your beach bag or suitcase for your summer vacation reading, if you haven’t already read it!

The Vacationers
Straub, Emma
Riverhead Books
May 29, 2014
978-1-59463157-3
304 pp.
$26.95, hard.

Disclosure: I received a free ARC of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.

Other opinions (all good to excellent):
Bibliophile by the Sea
Lakeside Musing

nomadreader

Weekend Cooking buttonWeekend Cooking is a weekly feature hosted by Beth Fish Reads, linking up food-related posts. Click here for links to other Weekend Cooking posts on Beth Fish Reads and other blogs.

 For my last Weekend Cooking post a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Salad of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year by Georgeanne Brennan.cover image

I returned Salad of the Day to the library, but took inspiration from it afterwards to keep having salad meals. Last night we had this variation on a Greek salad, using baby spinach from the farmer’s market and fresh parsley and grilled zucchini from the garden.

photo of Greek salad on plate

I sliced the zucchini after it was grilled, so you can’t see the grill marks in this picture, but they’re there!

We also had fresh green beans from the garden drizzled with the balsamic vinegar reduction I had left over from a Salad of the Day recipe and topped with fresh parsley from the garden and leftover toasted pecans. From here on out until the fall, we will probably put fresh herbs on everything possible, and I will definitely be making more of the balsamic vinegar reduction.

photo of green beans

Green beans from the garden are delicious even plain, but the balsamic reduction brings out the flavor!

A balsamic vinegar reduction is made by boiling down the vinegar to a thicker, more concentrated form. I think this was more in vogue a few years ago, but I’m always behind in my food trends. (If you want to see a recipe, this is a nice one on The Wimpy Vegetarian.) I have used it before on what we usually call tomatoes and mozzarella, but is actually a Caprese salad.

photo of tomatoes and mozzarella sliced and arranged on serving plate sprinkled with chopped basil

Before I knew about balsamic vinegar reduction, we would just drizzle this with olive oil.

You can use your balsamic vinegar reduction on grilled peaches and ricotta, in a Balsamic Blast Cocktail, or in combination with spinach and strawberries in a salad or on crostini.

strawberries and pecans on spinach

This spinach-strawberry salad would have been good with goat cheese, too, but someone had eaten it all.

If you buy good-quality balsamic vinegar and not the cheap stuff from Ocean State Job Lot, you don’t even need to reduce it to drizzle balsamic vinegar over ice cream.

Happy Weekend Cooking!

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