The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
I was prepared to slog my way through this classic, performing a type of penance for the prize of being able to say I've read "The Grapes of Wrath." Boy, was I taken off-guard. This is a heart-breaking, incredible work of literature, and once I got into Steinbeck's unique cadence, the pages flew by. Chronicling the migration of an Oklahoma family to California in search of work after their land has fallen to bank repossession in the mid-1930s, "The Grapes of Wrath" was an attempt - and a very strong one - to open naive eyes to the unbelievable hardships of Depression-era Americans. Suffering chronic malnutrition, frequent stillbirths and deaths, and constant humiliation at the hands of their fellow man, these migrants, who sought only to make a living for themselves and their families, were instead subject to the cruelest vicissitudes of capitalism. Steinbeck's writing takes a bit to get used to; he is fond of repetition, particularly with color words. But once you are used to it, the ebb and flow of the sentences, particularly the dialogue, pulls you through, chapter after chapter. The format is interesting, as well: the chapters alternate between the story of the Joad family and much shorter, almost prose poetry sections that refer to the greater situation, before delving back down into the Joad family's particular troubles. And the ending...the ending is especially powerful. This is not a book I will soon forget.