I have a confession to make.
I totally judge a book by its cover. I mean that literally, not metaphorically, although I’m sure I am guilty of that far too often as well.
But whenever I am in a book store, or in a library, or at a friend’s house, or even scrolling through the WordPress Reader, I am far more likely to be drawn to a book whose cover instantly appeals to me. Similarly, I am likely to skip over a book whose cover I hate, despite the possibility that I might enjoy the book itself.
Disgusting, isn’t it.
I do the same with book titles. If the title is catchy and clever, I’ll immediately give the book a chance. With me, it’s all about first impressions.
I like strong, simple, straightforward book covers. Not too many swirls, not too many flourishes, and preferably no picture, if I’m honest. Hence why I love orange Penguins so much.
I like poetic and intriguing book titles, titles that draw you in but don’t give away too much; titles that are fun to say yet leave you guessing.
Some of my favourite book titles include:
- The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
- Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
- Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
- To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
I actually think that Steinbeck takes the cake for cool book titles, I mean, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Sweet Thursday, Tortilla Flat…
But Of Mice and Men is definitely one of my all time favourites, and actually the title alone is what made me read the book for the first time years ago.
Of Mice and Men is one of those books that you tear through in one sitting. At only 106 pages all you need is some sunshine, a few drinks and an hour or so to spare. It is written in the simplistic, straightforward style that for me makes Steinbeck’s work so appealing. It is a raw and brutally honest account of the friendship between the two protagonists, George and Lennie.
Thrown together by a promise made long ago, the bond between these two men is tumultuous yet unbreakable. Lennie is a simple yet lovable giant who George is ultimately responsible for and bound to protect. Their love for each other is painted beautifully by Steinbeck beneath the harsh gruffness of the nature of two men on the run.
George still stared morosely at the fire. “When I think of the swell time I could have without you, I go nuts. I never get no peace.”
Lennie still knelt. “George, you want I should go away and leave you alone?”
George looked quickly and searchingly at him. “I been mean, ain’t I?”
Lennie’s constant threat to run away and live in a cave in the mountains becomes an ominous refrain throughout this short novel, a portent of misfortune to come. Coupled with this is the heart-wrenching description of the men’s simple hopes and dreams, which as the story progresses becomes more painfully obvious they will never achieve them.
Steinbeck is masterful at portraying the lives of the desperate and downtrodden in early 20th century America, and never more so than in Of Mice and Men. His description of the beaten down workers on the ranch, the oppression and isolation of the black farm hand and the cruel and pointless authority of the ranch owner ‘Curley’ have a kind of dark and melancholy beauty that sets the scene for the climax to come.
Curley stepped gingerly close to him. “You the new guys the old man was waiting for?”
“We just came in,” said George.
“Let the big guy talk.”
Lennie twisted with embarrassment.
George said, “S’pose he don’t want to talk?”
Curley lashed his body around. “By Christ, he’s gotta talk when he’s spoke to. What the hell are you gettin’ into it for?”
“We travel together,” said George coldly.
“Oh, so it’s that way.”
George was tense, and motionless. “Yeah, it’s that way.”
Beneath the dirt and dust of this simple tale is one of the most complex and moving studies of true friendship that can be found in literature. Steinbeck’s ability to position the reader exactly where he want’s us adds to the power of this story, and he has no hesitation in breaking your heart along the way.
Of Mice and Men is an enduring classic and one of Steinbeck’s most popular works, and should be at the top of everyone’s reading list. I’ve read it many times, yet each time I read it, its power and beauty affect me anew.
“I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.”