CLAY JENKINSON: Steinbeck Country

Of the great American writers, John Steinbeck is the most accessible. His masterpiece, “The Grapes of Wrath,” is perhaps the most widely read of all American classics. He wrote it in the white heat of anger — how the 1 percent were mistreating displaced Americans, “Okies,” good agrarian men and women of the Plains, who had made their way to the fields of California in search of subsistence.

“The Grapes of Wrath” represents a “perfect storm” of art: a writer at the top of his game, with a subject of world historical importance; centered on an American road trip, featuring a broken family seeking to reinvigorate the American Dream.

So this was Ma Joad? I’ve got to rethink the "Grapes of Wrath"!
So this was Ma Joad? I’ve got to rethink the “Grapes of Wrath”!

Steinbeck is a quintessentially California writer. His world — Salinas, Monterey, Los Angeles, the great Central Valley (Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia), and Route 66 — is a central part of American memory.

I’m taking a group of Steinbeck lovers, mostly from the ranks of “Jefferson Hour” listeners, on a weeklong tour of the places that helped form his mighty fictions. Strange though it may seem, these cultural tours change lives. They give people an opportunity to wade into the humanities in a delightful, satisfying, affirming, and sensuous way, without the academic intimidation usual in such enterprises. They remind us of what is really important. They create friendships. They have created lasting romances. They renew the tired and deepen the lives of people who want more books and ideas in their life, but don’t quite know how to make it happen. There is endless laughter — and always a sense of adventure.

It’s what Thoreau said, “How many a man has dated a new era of his life from the reading of a book?”

All the logistics are handled by my travel partner, Becky Cawley. All you have to do is show up with your curiosity (and a modicum of reading!).

For more information, see the descriptions on this site and at Jeffersonhour.com. Or call Becky at (208) 791-8721.

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