The Committee Room
|First edition, 1952|
looks back sixty holiday seasons to Christmas 1952/New Year's 1953 when John Steinbeck
's East of Eden
headed the New York Times
list of bestselling fiction.
Other titles in the fiction top ten were The Caine Mutiny
, Herman Wouk's Pulitzer Prize winning Navy court martial story which by this point had been in the top ten for nearly two years; Giant
, a tale of Texas cattle and oil fortunes, by Edna Ferber; The Silver Chalice
by Thomas B. Costain, an updating of the Holy Grail legend; and Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea
Steinbeck considered East of Eden
his most ambitious and important novel. In November 1951, after completing a full year of arduous work on East of Eden
Steinbeck wrote to a friend -- "In my book just finished I have put all the things I have wanted to write all my life. This is 'the book.' If it is not good I have fooled myself all the the time...Having done this I can do anything I want. Always I had this book waiting to be written."
|First paperback edition, 1954|
Dedicated by Steinbeck to his two young sons, Thomas
and John IV, East of Eden
is a sprawling saga of two California families -- the Hamiltons, closely based on Steinbeck's mother's family, and the fictional Trasks -- that spans the decades from the Civil War through World War I. Published by Viking
in September 1952, East of Eden
received mixed reviews. Few critics considered it superior to Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
, the 1939 bestseller about Oklahoma migrants to California which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
In December 1952, Steinbeck wrote -- "I guess I just don't bring out the best in critics. Maybe I've been around too long. The tradition is that writers of English die young. Maybe that outrages them. The pleasant thing is that people go right on reading the books."