TBT: Of Mice and Men

Spoiler alert: If you are fifteen and haven't yet read Of Mice and Men, now is a good time to leave the room.

I don't know exactly how they teach books now in high school. For all I know they just email a Wikipedia link to the student's gmail account and call it a day.

Are Cliff Notes even a thing anymore?

In my parent's generation they probably had to hand-write actual essays.

That must have been weird.

I was raised during the brief time when analogue and digital were still kissing cousins. We had pens and paper for sure, but the lucky spoon-fed suburbanites like myself also had a Mac Plus and an ImageWriter II.

Though, to be fair, I also didn't learn to QWERTY until I was a sophomore, and learned on an electric typewriter, while now, my nine-year old son has finished his online typing courses and will never in his life have to figure out how to hyphenate a long word at the end of a page.

That too must be weird.

But getting back to books, when I was assigned Of Mice and Men, we would read most of it out loud in class, take a brief inconsequential test, and then the Audio/Video Cart was rolled in, and we watched the movie on VHS.

We were also the first generation to make nerds cool. And the Audio/Video crew was the start of it all.

Anyway . . . back to the book.

Of Mice and Men was first published this week back in 1937. The height of the Great Depression. My oldest grandparents were my son's age.

That also . . . weird.

It didn't find my desk until the spring of 1993 and by then, I assumed, it was just another tired outmoded classic that an underfunded education system had a lot of copies of from a previous generation (Looking at you Great Gatsby).

So I was surprised that the actual book dropped on my desk was a fresh un-dog-eared copy.

I can still remember the smell.

That too . . . weird.

While old books, with their plastic dust jackets and musty, earthy undertones, smell distinctly like warmth and comfort, new books smell of adventure.

I'd say it's as heady as sniffing glue, but it is in fact, sniffing glue.

Intrigued . . . I tore through it in a day or two, pointedly creasing the spine and leaving chocolate finger prints on various pages, marking my territory for next years class. Joshua Macrae was here first.

The tale of George and Lenny, I immediately recognized from a Bugs Bunny spoof and found myself ridiculously gleeful that I had made that connection. I understood the plight of migrant farm hands, and all those dirty Farmer's Daughter jokes were made so much funnier in the human context.

I also, oddly enough, realized Steinbeck had adapted Frankenstein, and that it's possible that so many books I've read had layers of meaning.

Gotta be honest, by then I was exhausted by the thought school books. The Scarlett Letter (good god), and it wasn't until my mid-twenties when I read "The Count of Monte Cristo" that I realized The Great Gatsby had any literary value at all.

In fact, I'm ashamed to admit as the Shakespeare nut I am now, the only redeeming quality of Romeo and Juliet was the brief glimpse of Olivia Hussey's naked boob in Zeffirelli's movie adaptation.

I . . . am . . . not . . . alone . . . in . . . this!

The A/V kids knew what was up.

But "Of Mice and Men" was the first book where I suddenly, knowingly . . . got it.

And when the time came, when the Farmer's daughter lay dead, and George realizes there's no escaping the angry mob, and he begins telling Lenny about the rabbits, and then BANG, well . . . I gotta say . . . I got misty.

I was always into books, but "Of Mice and Men" got me INTO books. All caps. A small book for a man, but a giant leap for the evolution of my literary understanding.

It's funny too, because of the curriculum, the way we would read a book and then watch the movie, there's a good chance that we might have been stuck following the Joads out of the dust bowl with their grape-y wrath. But my progressive english teacher at the time knew a brand new movie had come out in October of 1992 and would be available to rent by the late spring of 1993.

So instead of watching Jane Fonda's dad tell it like it is, or was, we get a very youthful Gary Sinise popping a cap in the head of a very youthful John Malkovich.

Hence the brand new books.

Such an odd twist of fate.

or . . . you know . . . weird.

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