Here is my review of “Obscene In the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’” as posted at LibraryThing.com:
The title of the book “Obscene In the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’” is deceptive of its contents. While the first chapter spends a few pages discussing the efforts to ban the book from the Kern County library, and while the last chapter focuses more on those efforts and the immediate aftermath, the rest of the book focuses nearly exclusively on the labor issues in California during the 1930s and only mentions “The Grapes of Wrath” in passing references from time to time.
The background and history of that region is important to understand in order to appreciate why Steinbeck’s classic came under fire, but author Rick Wartzman devotes more time than is necessary to convey this point. He mentions that the book was also banned in other regions of the country, but rarely, if at all, states why these areas outside California found it necessary to do so.
The book's “heroine” is a Kern County librarian who was brave enough to write a stern letter to the Kern County Board – her employer – and managed to loan a good number of copies out to other libraries who struggled to keep up with the demand for “The Grapes of Wrath”, but beyond that, either Ms. Gretchen Knief did nothing of note or else the author chose not to mention it. From the available text, it is difficult to tell.
Thankfully, the author does spend some time discussing Steinbeck’s actions in California during the 1930s, but despite the title of this book, most of the focus is prior to the penning of his classic novel. Once again, this was interesting and necessary, but not in keeping with the title.
With all of that being said, though, this work told a detailed and compelling story of the laborers of that region and their struggles. These pages could serve as a good solid starting point for anyone wanting to learn of the era and the atmosphere at a tumultuous time in California’s history when the political and social stakes were high. For that much, this is a good read.
But as a book about the burning and banning of an American classic, this reference falls short with a title that is as deceptive as the land-owners it chronicles.
Since Fall officially begins tomorrow, I'm off to pick my Classics & Cheese movies for the upcoming months of cool weather, fallen leaves, and longer nights. I've recently purchased some modern horror films (by modern, I mean made within the last ten years) that I haven't opened yet, so maybe I'll strip off the cellophane and fire those up.
Taking a bite out of clear plastic,