Laura J. W.'s Reviews > Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters

Journal of a Novel by John Steinbeck
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Jul 24, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: diary-journal-memoir-biography, i-ll-read-it-again, non-fiction, on-writing

"...I want to write this one as though it were my last book." (quoted from page 8, February 12.)

From January 29-November 1, 1951 John Steinbeck documented the writing of East of Eden in notebooks, entries addressed to "Pat" (Pascal Covici, his friend and editor at Viking Press.) I took my time reading these letters every night just before going to sleep. East of Eden is one of my all time favorite books and it was such a treat to read these passages documenting the time he spent writing it. This book is a historical document, a primary source, therefore, a casual reader might find it confusing and boring to read about John Steinbeck's one-sided conversation with his editor, which contains odd details about aches and pains, nervous observations about personal health and concerns about family, carpentry projects, quirky habits having to do with sharpened pencils and notebooks, and an annoying wrinkle in the blotting paper on his desk. But for me, as a writer, I am able relate to this sort of stuff, especially with the joys and frustrations that go along with the process of writing a novel, the interruptions from writing because of life's events and the difficult, sometimes sluggish return to work after the interruptions were resolved. A writer often lives with a fear that something will happen to cause the book to be left unfinished or somehow destroyed. The entries are overflowing with the knowledge that not everyone is going to like the book at the same time that he knows there will be people who will love it...it's an emotional see-saw, at one moment he says "Oh the Hell with it", and the next, he's agonizing with self doubt.

"You know just as well as I do that this book is going to catch the same kind of hell that all the others did and for the same reasons. It will not be what anyone expects and so the expecters will not like it. And until it gets to people who don't expect anything and are just willing to go along with the story, no one is likely to like this book." (quoted from page 26, March 8, Thursday.) I couldn't have said that better myself!

Writing a book is a process that is all consuming, the line between dreams and realities becomes so fuzzy while in the thick of it, a writer can be easily lost, caught up in the tides of emotions, everything is on at full blast and wide open, it takes a special person to accomplish the writing of a book, seeing it through to the end and remaining consistent and faithful to the inspiration, at the same time letting it go its own way...and it takes a special spouse to put up with the writer while they go through the process. (Kudos to Elaine!)

It is all very strange...this is a book for the writer to read, to gain reassurance that you're not nuts, and all of this is part of the package of being a writer.
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Reading Progress

July 24, 2010 – Shelved
January 17, 2011 – Started Reading
January 22, 2011 –
page 17
9.34%
January 30, 2011 –
page 26
14.29% ""You know as well as I do that this book is going to catch the same kind of hell that all the others did and for the same reasons. It will not be what anyone expects and so the expecters will not like it. And until it gets to people who don't expect anything and are just willing to go along with the story, no one is likely to like this book." - John Steinbeck Amen."
January 30, 2011 –
page 26
14.29% "Quote: "You know as well as I do that this book is going to catch the same kind of hell that all the others did and for the same reasons. It will not be what anyone expects and so the expecters will not like it. And until it gets to people who don't expect anything and are just willing to go along with the story, no one is likely to like this book." John Steinbeck, March 8, Thursday (p. 26)"
February 26, 2011 –
page 77
42.31% "Page 74-75, May 3, Thursday, "The day is lovely and sunny. And I am sunny, but not lovely. Time is creeping upon me while I sit and put down my wayward words. I suppose by this means I put off the discipline of the book but I can do that no longer. So here I go." - John Steinbeck."
March 4, 2011 –
page 86
47.25% "May 10, Thursday "...if I had the sense that is the natural right of little green turnips, I would not dawdle today but would rip into the book. Unfortunately I do not have that sense." Yes, I can relate. Writers and their struggles with "getting on with it" - distractions, interruptions, procrastination, we all go through it. This annoying frustration is good for us because the result is writing at its best..."
April 1, 2011 –
page 113
62.09% "Your new translation of the story has one most important change. It is the third version. The King James says of sin crouching at the door, "Thou shalt rule over it." The American Standard says, "Do thou rule over it." Now this new translation says, "Thou mayest rule over it" This is the most vital difference. The first two are 1, a prophecy and 2, an order, but 3, is the offering of free will. (Pages 107-108)"
May 13, 2011 –
page 150
82.42% ""...I said at the beginning this had to be written as though it would never be done. And if I lose that feeling for any reason, the book will go to hell...After all this work I'd rather put it away for a year than spoil it now." - August 3, Friday, page 139"
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: diary-journal-memoir-biography
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: i-ll-read-it-again
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: non-fiction
May 15, 2011 – Shelved as: on-writing
May 15, 2011 – Finished Reading

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