Usually I stay away from famous books. Of Mice and Men is almost the best example. It is available in 4,899 libraries world wide, has been published in 302 editions, and ranks second in the “California Canon.” A Google search for the book (along with its film and stage adaptations) yields 2.1 million returns. Innumerable summaries, analyses and study guides are available online. At goodreads members have posted 8,474 reviews -- fewer than those posted for any of the Harry Potter books but still a huge number. Does any more need to be said?
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Covici-Friede (1937), 186 pp.
Probably not. But I’m going to give some of my impressions anyway. I usually begin with a set-up section that covers the first 15 percent of the book. Ordinarily, that’s enough for me to mention the main characters and point out the direction of the plot. One might expect that in a short book like this the author would have hurried to establish his characters. But Steinbeck does just the opposite. In the early pages he introduces only two itinerant farm workers, big and slow-witted Lennie Small and his pal and unofficial guardian, George Milton. Steinbeck apparently wants readers to focus on the relationship between the two men and not become distracted later when more characters, all residents on the ranch south of Soledad where Lennie and George go to work, make an appearance. Distraction is a definite possibility because the new arrivals are rendered in telling detail and with sympathetic understanding.
The book represents a conjunction of two of Steinbeck’s favorite themes. First, working the land in California presents many difficulties. And second, men can live contentedly without female companionship. (Perhaps “only” needs to be put between “can” and “live.”) All of his California novels except The Wayward Bus explore these themes in one way or another. Which could pose a problem for readers unconcerned with ranching in the Salinas Valley or turned off by the author’s misogynistic streak. They might be tempted to lump this book with other literary masterpieces that no one reads voluntarily. That would be a mistake. The book is so short -- it can (and should) be read in one sitting -- and packs so much emotional punch that serious readers are bound to find it rewarding.