It’s good to have some books you can return to. Books that have a certain atmosphere that’s familiar and that welcome you back. Where have you been all these years? The joy of rereading is picking up all the details again, passages that have a memory attached to them, wondering what on earth made you underline that sentence back then.
Of mice and men was the first book I read by John Steinbeck, now seven years ago. A lot has changed since then, naturally. I remember liking the book, but also finding it difficult. That hasn’t changed. Steinbeck writes warmly, using nature to create atmosphere and people to create plot. There is a timeless quality to Of mice and men – it feels universal or mythical – and perhaps that’s what makes it difficult to get into at first.
The story is simple enough: Lennie and George are two labourers who travel around looking for work on farms. They have a dream that drives them, once to own a place of their own and live off the land, but Lennie’s clumsiness always gets them into trouble; simple, honest men, living in hard times. Their fate is set and we know it, but they don’t. With these basic elements Steinbeck makes a story that’s sad but true, tragic but also hopeful. Since it was published in 1937 Americans have always returned to Of mice and men and so will I.
Penguin Books, 1994
Originally published in 1937