How Michael Gove made me fall back in love with reading – and Steinbeck

Steinbeck’s sturdiness has been an unwavering presence in the most conflicting times of my life. Before changing my degree to English after a year, my decision to study Biology meant I pined for the great love of my life: novels.

So discovering the news that Gove planned to axe a plethora of American authors – from Steinbeck to Harper Lee to Maya Angelou – felt like a personal blow.

Sitting on the tube towards my nine AM lectures on genetic drift and phylogenetic trees, a few stolen moments reading in the awkwardly silent carriage preserved my sanity. Whilst reading The Grapes of Wrath, it was obvious to me that the Dust Bowl setting could not be further away from my reality. But I began to realise the peripatetic lifestyle of the Joad family was being lived around me on the underground and in this I found solace.

Each day, I saw workers set off for their jobs, each trying to carve out a life, each attempting to earn a living. Observing this clockwork routine every morning, it suddenly struck me that geography does not separate humans, that borders are man-made and experiences are universal. The visceral traits of human experience remain unspoiled by time or setting.

The awful feeling which arose from the prospect of Gove’s new education reforms quickly subsided, however. He refuted claims he has dropped American authors from the syllabus after an uproar resulting in the To Kill A Mockingbird hashtag trending on twitter and many outraged articles, which spread like wildfire on the internet.

However, the media’s distortion of facts has, for once, been a force for good: it has rekindled my love of Steinbeck. After experiencing a drought on the ‘reading for personal enjoyment’ front, brought on by exams and assignments and deadlines, I have finally started to take pleasure in reading again.

This excerpt is one of the most memorable from Steinbeck’s East of Eden: “When a child first catches adults out — when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not always have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just — his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.”

The novel isset in the Salinas Valley chronicling the lives of two different families who cross paths and is drenched in biblical allegory. It’s a novel that is studded with observations – and they become seared in your mind. If you’re anything like me, you will scramble to underline all of Steinbeck’s beautiful and arresting sentences. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m trying to eke out the last few pages in the vain hope it never ends.

The Gove-and-American-authors episode has gloriously reacquainted me with Steinbeck. I never thought I would say this, but I am grateful to Gove for making me fall in love with reading again.

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