November Book Club: The Winter of Our Discontent REview

The Winter of Our Discontent

John Steinbeck




In case you forget, John Steinbeck is the man.  This is something we were all reminded of last night at our book club discussion of The Winter of Our Discontent.  It was decided that it’s our natural inclination to lump Steinbeck in with all the other classics and forget just what a wonderful author he is.  Steinbeck is consistently funny, intelligent, and most importantly relevant.  Written in 1961, WoOD isn’t the slighteset out of date.  Dealing with the pressures of society and “getting ahead a any cost” will always be an issue for us manly men.

See our PREview for a summary of the book and why we chose it.

As a book, WoOD received the most consistent ratings yet.  Everyone rated it between a 7.5 and and 8.5  We’ve had books that people like more and that get a higher total aggregate score, but this is the first time that everyone’s been within a point of each other.  The conversation was one of the best so far, mostly because we all read it so differently.  Some saw evil in Ethan’s descent into doing what he could to get ahead, some felt sorry for him as he was swept away by the tides of expectation forced upon him by family and society alike.  Ethan has been the most controversial character that we’ve met so far in terms of interpreting his motives and what type of person he really is.  At the very least, WoOD makes you ask the question: what would I do to support my family?

To quote a tweet following the discussion: “Almost every month I leave #iUMBC with the desire to go reread the book”

Again, we covered some of the specifics about the book in our PREview of the book. See below for what our contributors thought and what we liked and didn’t like.

Book Club Snap Shot

(Hover over names for ratings and recaps.)

What we liked:
  • Steinbeck is the master of imagery and shaping scenes without being to flowery or over detailed.
  • Challenging and thought-provoking critique of money, influence, and status.
  • Whether you liked or disliked what he became, the protagonist, Ethan, is one of the most interesting, developed characters we’ve read so far.
  • Great us of metaphor throughout the book.
  • As with many Steinbeck books, the ending paragraph wrapped up the book with a brilliant metaphor of tides.  Leaving us in doubt of how the story ended.
What we didn’t like:
  • umm…*crickets*
  • One guy didn’t think the ending was believable…

No matter what, I think the main lesson to be learned with this book is that if you’ve never read Steinbeck or haven’t for a while because you lump him into the same category as other classics, give yourself a little slap and get one.  Now.

Relevant, funny, smart, I’m hitting myself for not reading more Steinbeck before this.

Thoughts? Opinions?  What do you think of it?  Do you have other Steinbeck favorites?

In my mind, Steinbeck was lumped in with other classic authors who wrote in such flowery confusing language that I failed to connect with the novel. This is not true. I discovered that Steinbeck is a brilliant author; he picks up on the subtleties in setting, character and dialogue that most fail to connect. Winter of Our Discontent is a novel about the American conditions of money, pride and prestige. The Hawley family, once wealthy and powerful in the city of New Baytown, is now struggling to live as lavishly as they once did. Times are so tough that the protagonist, Ethan Allen Hawley, finds himself working as a grocery clerk to make ends meet. As the financial pressures of society build, so does the frustration and anxiety in Ethan, and he begins to contemplate alternative means of resurrecting the Hawley surname.

Every Steinbeck I've read, I've loved (that being 2 of his books). He's challenging — not so much in reading difficulty but in depth — in so many ways Winter of our Discontent asks what it is to be a man & to successfully manage your life. It's not macho in any stretch of the imagination, but it engages straight at the heart of masculinity. Not everyone will love it, but it's worth the read.

I am a huge Steinbeck fan overall, so this was a delight for me. It is not my favorite of his, but it is still very good. Steinbeck's portrayal of the ways a man will compromise himself for love and money is, as his writings always seem to be, brilliant, well thought out, and beautifully written.

This is the kind of book that I love: one that tells a good story rich with symbolism and makes you think--not just about the plot but about yourself and the world around you. Steinbeck's criticisms are at least as relevant today as they were then, and it is the task of every man to wrestle with the kind of life he wants to pursue and what costs come of that.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  The one and only Steinbeck book was Of Mice and Men back in high school.  Being forced to read a book in high school and reading it later in life give you two entirely different perspectives.  Reading WoOD left me upset that I haven't been reading more Steinbeck all along.  I immediately went out and read three more.
About zach

Staring out across the hazy mountain range on his latest summitting of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Zach saw with a clearness he had not yet seen. "People should tremble at the very sound of my name", he thought. And it was so. "I should master the manly arts of the world, such as barehanded hunting and blacksmithing". And it was so. "People should call me Z$". And it was so.

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