Book Review: East of Eden – John Steinbeck

“And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars”
Timshel – Mumford & Sons

East of Eden
I have a new author crush.

This is my second Steinbeck novel and I am thoroughly smitten. East of Eden. I only read it because it is a classic, and now I know why. It’s surely one of the best novels I have read, not necessarily because of the story itself even though it was a sweeping epic kind of story, and not necessarily because of the characters, although they are now so real in my mind it feels like they are people I once knew. It was one of the greatest novels because of the way both the story and the characters so beautifully written, conveyed some of the greatest truths of human nature and our universal condition.

“There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.” ~ East of Eden, Chapter 28 part 2, p360

I came across a review of this book in which the writer complains that she didn’t like it because it was too dark and depressing. I fear they have missed the point entirely! The beauty and hope in East of Eden is because the author dares to explore the darkest rankest tendancies of people; lust, rage, jealously, hatred, cruelty and murder, and yet reminds us that the greatness of man is that we have choice. We can overcome our darkness and choose a different way.

“Now, there are millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”  ~ East of Eden, Chapter 24 part 2, p 305

This is a story that probes the age old questions about good, evil and free will. It carries the themes of love and hatred, fathers, sons and brothers, disappointment and hope. What is man? As I read I decided I’m glad I didn’t read this as a set novel in high school English class. I was far too naive about the world. Life was neatly divided, black and white, good and evil. And I was blissfully unaware at the depravity I too was capable of…thought too highly of myself and my idealistic world. I had the answer to everything. Yet now, a couple of years later and a few knocks and hurts and bumps along the way, I feel that this book came along at just the right time for me to appreciate the depth of it. It’s a keeper. I know I’ll read it again and dip into it’s lovely quotable-ness for many years to come.

“But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because ‘Thou mayest.” ~ East of Eden, Chapter 24 part 2, p306


Some Recent Things

I bought the kids this world map puzzle, (because Ben asked for one) which includes some of the nations flags.

While they built it, we talked about what a continent is, and identified some of the capital cities for example, Canberra and Wellington being the two most relevant to them. Both Ben and Emma enjoyed spotting South Africa on the map because that’s where Dad comes from. Emma was surprised to discover that Egypt is on the same continent. She also thought the UK would be as big as the USA and was surprised by it’s tiny land mass.

Afterwards we pulled out the World Atlas and spend a few minutes browsing maps and Ben said he liked how you could see on the map where the mountains are. I showed them the Key to symbols on the map so they could start to understand what they were looking at.

And I spotted Emma in Sam’s bed piled up high with spare mattress and blankets with one of her library books from the Horrible Geography series.

(Unschool Monday  is hosted over at Owlet. Pop over to find posts about other unschooly days.)

Just some things.

I have tired eyes, but am so awake on the inside…my mind feels alert with the anticipation of the things that have to happen over the next 7 days. Today was busy. Packed another suitcase, washed clothes, cooked dinner and pudding, drank tea with a friend, visited the lawyer, compiled documents for a rental application, sent emails, and sold stuff.  I really like my lawyer. There are two large tail-wagging dogs that greet clients at the door. One is black (a Retriever I think) and the other is golden and curly. Both stand about knee high. You don’t really expect two large dogs when you go to see a lawyer.

I made chocolate pudding for the kids for dessert. I accidentally added 2 eggs instead of 1, and cooked it in the microwave instead of the oven because I was running out of time. But steamy hot pudding however stodgy, with creamy vanilla ice cream still filled happy bellies and so wasn’t a complete fail. The reason I messed up the recipe is because I’m the worst ever cooking-with-kids kind of person. It drives me to distraction (literally) and I make a mistake nearly every time. I can cook and talk on the phone, I can cook and chat with friends, but I can’t cook while making sure the two year old doesn’t pour out the milk, or tip flour on the floor. He’s inclined to do things like that. The other day he stood on a chair while I was making pumpkin soup. We were finished and the phone rang. When I came back I found he had poured and entire 2 litre bottle of milk into the soup and turned it into pumpkin flavoured milk. It was completely wasted. A disaster.

I’m reading again. It’s been a while. A friend lent me The Help a few weeks ago, and one weekend while sick I read the whole thing in two days. It was such a lovely lovely relaxing feeling to read an entire book. (A good read by the way. I saw the movie first, and enjoyed both equally.) When I read and get lost in a good book I can actually feel my brain relax. It’s like a brain-sigh. Anyway, now I’m finally reading Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I bought it ages ago, and finally in desperation of having nothing to read, I unpacked a box of books that has been packed up for three months and dug it out. So far so good. I’m needing a read at the end of the day to stop my brain going over To Do lists all night.  Last night I dreamed I was driving along Seacliff Beach (my local beach in Adelaide) watching sharks circling around in the shallows. (What does this mean??)

This bearded dragon has absolutely nothing to do with anything. I just like him.

The Books of My Childhood

Last night I was thinking about buying a gift for a friend’s young child, and I thought how I didn’t want to buy clothing or toys that might not last, but something more lasting. And I got to thinking about books and how they have such a lasting impact, planting the seeds of the earliest imaginations. I started thinking about which book every child should get to read…which made me drift back to my childhood…. and these are the books I read as a young child that I can still remember to this day.

A Fish Out of Water – Helen Palmer

This is the story of a little boy who gets a goldfish, and is warned by the pet shop man not to overfeed it. And true to human nature, the urge to test it out and see what happens is too great. Alas, the goldfish is over fed, and grows and grows, until as you can see by the picture, it out grows not only his bowl, but the bath and the entire house. Great rhyming story and illustrations that capture the imagination. It struck the fear of overfeeding gold fish into me, so I guess there was a lesson there too.

The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek – Jenny Wagner

A very sweet story of the mythological Australian Bunyip. Darkish illustrations both delighted and spooked me as a child. The bunyip emerges from the creek not knowing what he is or what he looks like. He proceeds to ask a platypus, a wallaby, an emu, and finally a man who answers by saying that bunyips simply don’t exist. Poor bunyip goes away sad lonely until another strange creature emerges from a nearby billabong.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

I defy you to show me a child who doesn’t poke their finger through the little holes in this book.

Mr Tickle – Roger Hargreaves

I particularly remember having this book read to me and the anticipation building page by page because I knew what was coming. If you weren’t careful reading this book, you might find Mr Tickle and his long arms reaching around the corner of the room you’re in right now and find yourself well and truly tickled!! I love how children ask to be tickled, then scream with laughter and beg you to stop. This book reminds me of that.

Possum Magic – Mem Fox

Another Australian classic. It has become a favourite of my children too. When I was about 10 my uncle took me to a reading of this book by the author Mem Fox, accompanied by the Australian Symphony Orchestra. She signed my book. I love the illustrations in this one, and have enjoyed other books illustrated by Julie Vivas as well.

In the Night Kitchen – Maurice Sendak

Perhaps not as well known as Where the Wild Things Are, this is still a great book. I still LOVE the illustrations! It’s about Mickey who is supposed to be going to sleep but finds himself floating into the ‘night kitchen’ where the bakers are busy baking the morning cake. He finds himself almost baked into a cake. They chant “Milk! Milk! Milk for the Morning Cake!” So Mickey flies in his dough plane right up to the Milky Way, dives into a milk bottle, swims back to the top and pours some milk down for the three fat bakers. The bakers rejoice and all is well. Thanks to Mickey there will be morning cake. Apparently this book was a bit scandalous at one stage because Mickey is naked. My 1980’s Australian primary school evidently didn’t have a problem with it.

There’s A Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake – Hazel Edwards

The hippopotamus gets to do all the things the little girl in this story wishes she could do. That is, take showers instead of baths, watch TV instead of going to bed and eating cake whenever she feels like it. I understand. I really do.

Has anyone else out there enjoyed these? What are you favourite books from childhood?


What’s going on? Why haven’t I been posting here?

Gee, I dunno…just have nothing to say. Well that’s not strictly true. I always have something to say. Whether it’s worth listening to is another story all together.

But life is just ticking along. I’m feeling slightly grumpy and unmotivated…the mid year or mid winter doldrums. There are plenty of things I need to do, and plenty of things I could do, but I’m finding myself wasting time and not planning my days well. Doing nothing does not provide much real life to write about I’m afraid.

But I have been reading. I’m sorry to admit to Ari, that I didn’t finish reading The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. I wanted to. Just because I like his name. Fforde. Ffunny. I read more than half, and got distracted and hadn’t read it in large enough chunks at each reading to really get into it. I love his imagination, and the literary references were clever, the story interesting enough..but I guess it was just tooo fiction for me. I didn’t fall in love with the main character enough to bother carrying on with it.

I am currently reading The Eve Tree by Rachel Devenish Ford. I’ve been reading her blog for a while now….she lives part of each year in India, and I like to live vicariously through her just a little bit. Although I’ve recently realised that though other peopeles lives or the lives we dream of may seem magical, there is no dream like quality to them…they are still messy and have their fair share of irritations and struggles. Annnnyyyyywaaaaaayy… I go on! The book! Yes, the book is about mothers and daughters, and mental instability or vulnerability. It’s about the land and belonging to it, and trees and family and fire. I like.

Today I filled the biscuit tin with home made Oat Crisps and got messy with glitter and glue and stickers with the kids. And yesterday I wrote a letter.

That’s about it.

Book Review: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

Set in the mid 1970’s in India during the Internal Emergency, it weaves the story of four people who develop an unlikely friendship.

The first part of the book introduces us to Ishvar and Om, an uncle and nephew duo of tailors who leave village life after tragedy to find work in the city. Their story entwines with Dina Dilal’s after they take on consignment sewing for her in her apartment. Her boarder Maneck is the fourth character.

And so we begin the unfolding story which gives insights into timeless India, but also gives account of injustices which occurred during the political turmoil of the 1970’s.

“You see, you cannot draw lines and compartments, and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.”

Despair. Yes, this book deals with despair. The despair of poverty, crooked politics and the injustice of caste. But it is interwoven with hope, and in the face of despair, the beauty of humanity shows itself against the backdrop of ugliness. The characters are well developed and all throughout I hoped for better for them. I hoped they could overcome the injustices raging against them. And yet, though the darkness seemed to triumph, and the atrocities that they suffered just kept coming, this book was a compassionate and sensitive picture of the human ability to endure. Once again, suffering seems to bring out the best and worst in people, and both are so very human and makes us what we are.

A solid long read of 600+ pages, I think my recent reading drought has broken. A great novel.

Favourite Book Blogs

My Google Reader is full of book blogs at the moment. I love them because they are people who share my love of books, but also because it’s a great place to get the scoop on the best books around to read. I’ve found heaps of great books to read (and added many to my To Be Read list) thanks to book bloggers. So…I thought I’d share a few with you.


(Seemed appropriate to use one) Sherry reviews books (and sometimes movies) and posts a couple of times a week. On Saturday’s she hosts Saturday Reviews (here’s the last one) where people can post links to book reviews posted during the week. It’s an abundance of book ideas.

Fresh Ink Books:

I just found this the other day. Sandra posts about once a week. She has a full list of all her reviews and holds giveaways. Who doesn’t like a giveaway!?

Devourer Of Books:

Jen posts nearly every day! Yes, a devourer of books is the word. She also recently did a string of reviews of audiobooks. I haven’t really ventured down the road of audiobooks yet. Jen also holds regular giveaways. (I recently won one! Long story haha)


Yes, books books books, but other things too. Chris’ review of Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy convinced me to read it. It’s waiting on my shelf.

So there you have it. If you like to read, pop in and visit these ladies.

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Beginning Chapter Books

A friend of mine emailed to ask for some chapter book recommendations for her son, just starting out on chapter books. So I thought I’d copy my reply here.

These are some of our favourite children’s chapter-ish books. Reading level varies in these…some you may need to read aloud.

In no particular order.

  • Charlotte’s Web – E B White
  • Stuart Little – E B White
  • The Adventures of Pinnochio – Carlo Collodi
  • The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me – Roald Dahl
  • Pipi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren
  • The Chronicles of Narnia – C S Lewis ( first two are best….others get a little tricky)
  • The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
  • Stories of Winnie the Pooh with selected poems – A A Milne
  • The Complete Tales – Beatrix Potter
  • Hans Christian Andersen tales
  • Aesops Fables ( you can get lovely abridged ones and illustrated ones)
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  • The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden – Philippa Pearce
  • Christopher Mouse – William Wise
  • The Magic Half – Annie Barrows
  • Little House on the Prairie series – Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carrol
  • The Borrowers – Mary Norton

Emma has also enjoyed Enid Blyton books starting with Noddy, and lately she’s read Treasure Hunters and Mystery Stories. She’s also quite into the prolific titles in the Rainbow Magic series, as well as Disney Fairies, and Ballerina Magic. (I don’t like them, but she reads a lot of them from the library.)

She also started off by reading through a collection of Nursery Tales we used to read aloud to her. It has a lot of the classic tales (like Andersen’s) retold and beautifully illustrated. It took her to longer sentences and paragraphs, with shortish stories so she could finish one in a sitting.

I hope that helps. There are great reading lists at Ambleside Online, especially if you’re after more classic type books for kids.

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I like you Rory Gilmore

When I saw this video (hat tip to book-a-rama) I got just a bit excited. I like you Rory Gilmore.

It’s no secret that I love books. In fact lately I’ve become more than a little obsessed. What does that look like?  I simply cannot walk past a book shop or sale without having a look. Near my local supermarket is a clearance store for my favourite book chain, selling clearance books at 60% off. That positively gets my heart racing. (Well, almost) My google reader is subscribed to no less than five book blogs. I would add more, but every time I read a review of a book that interests me, I add it to my To Be Read list and it’s already growing faster than I’ll ever be able to read them all. Sigh… so many books, so little time.

I love having my books on shelves; on display for when I get the urge to read one or refer to one or lend one. And I like the look of them. Nothing pleases me more than if a guest in my home notices my books and asks about them, and it really gets me going if they wander over and pick one up.

And I like to arrange my books in a certain way. I group books not according to genre, but according to the level of affection I hold for each book. Books that I really love get the best positions on the shelf. Eye level, arranged creatively. I don’t like bookshelves just in rows with spines showing. Some are upright, some covers facing, some in little piles. And it changes from time to time which books hold the prized place. Yes a little strange I know.  But *singing now in my best Julie Andrews voice*…….These are a few of my favorite things.

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I’ve noticed that some blogs out there have a very distinctive theme. They are book blogs, or mom (ahem) mum blogs, or foodie, or arty, or personal, or political, or spiritual, or travel blogs. There are probably more categories. But there ‘ere blog is none of these.

I just can’t bring myself to not make it about EVERYTHING! (Just felt like shouting that bit) So, there’s home schooling, there’s stuff about my kids, war, poverty and injustice. I have reviewed children’s books and classics and all sorts of others. Then there’s recipes, (like this Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake which I think I’ll make tomorrow) and stuff I made around the house as well as outright complaining about stuff. And for something completely random, here’s a post about a hedgehog.

I quite like the idea of sticking to one thing and doing it well, but that’s as far as it goes….and idea. I can’t help myself trying something new. Ya wanna know what I’m reading right now? I have three books on the go.

1) The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet - Colleen McCullough. It follows the life of Mary (the middle of the five Bennet sisters) about 20 years after the end of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

2) The Fellowship of the Ring – J R Tolkein. Yep I’ve never read LOTR before. And I got a lovely boxed set on sale for $15 a while ago. So far so good.

3) What’s So Amazing About Grace? – Philip Yancey. In short; theology.

So yeah, a theme. Or not.

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