‘Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath’ Book Review
By Rick Wartzman (PublicAffairs, $26.95)
Few books have captured the attention of American readers quite like John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Within weeks of its publication in April 1939, it had become the nation’s No. 1 best-seller. It was praised by critics, including President Franklin Roosevelt. His wife, Eleanor, called the book “unforgettable.” Later that same year it was snapped up by Hollywood to be made into a blockbuster film directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda. Ford would later receive an Oscar for the project.
Not everyone was pleased with Steinbeck’s novel, however.
On Aug. 21, 1939, the Kern County Board of Supervisors met in the classical revival courthouse in downtown Bakersfield, Calif., for what seemed to be a rather routine and mundane meeting. After approving the minutes from the previous meeting and swiftly dispensing with a few other perfunctory tasks, one of the board members, Stanley Abel, blindsided his colleagues when he introduced a resolution to ban Steinbeck’s novel from the county’s schools and libraries. It was seconded, and with little or no discussion, passed.
W.B. “Bill” Camp, a cotton and potato tycoon, presided over a book burning staged in downtown Bakersfield while Abel – who openly trumpeted his Ku Klux Klan affiliation – continued his campaign to inflame the public. One of the few people to step forward to oppose this madness was Gretchen Knief, the Kern County chief librarian. She bravely fought back, asking if Steinbeck’s book was banned then, what would be banned tomorrow?
Rick Wartzman, a former reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, has written a highly readable account of this incident. His book is meticulously researched, well crafted and rich in historic detail. Best of all, it appears on book shelves just in time for this year’s “Banned Books Week,” Sept. 27-Oct. 4.
‘Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports’ Book Review
By Michael Sokolove (Simon & Schuster, $25)
As a direct result of Title IX, the number of girls playing in high
school sports has increased tenfold in the last three decades. The
number playing organized sports at the youth level has soared by an
even bigger number. That’s progress, but the dark underbelly of that
progress is our national obsession with youth sports, which has
triggered an epidemic of injuries.
Sokolove builds a convincing case in his new book that as a nation
we need to think more deeply about our present youth sports culture,
with its focus on seasons that seem to have no end. He points out that
our common belief that the more time and effort spent on training, the
better an athlete will be is not necessarily true and he cautions
against the “more is better” philosophy that suggests if a four-month
season of a sport is good, a six-month season is better, 10 months
better yet and a 12-month program optimum. Sokolove claims this
thinking is simply wrong and it can, in fact, be counterproductive.
Shin splints, chronic knee pain, back and hip pain and stress
fractures are too often the result of training that presses young
female athletes literally to the breaking point.
To underscore his point, Sokolove focuses on a typical case, Amy
Steadman, a North Carolina soccer phenom whose force of will was so
strong that not even her parents could temper her fierce training.
Playing competitively since childhood, Amy enrolled at the University
of North Carolina and while on her way to becoming one of the truly
great players in the sport, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament, or
ACL, not once but three times. Following her third injury and after
five surgeries, doctors advised Amy that they could no longer repair
her knee. She left the sport entirely, and now at the age of 24, works
in banking and faces chronic pain each day. She predicts that she’ll
need an artificial knee within six years. Unfortunately, Amy’s case is
not an aberration but rather typical. In fact, girls suffer from tears
in their ACL at rates as much as eight times greater than their male
This is a sobering book that is nothing less than a call to action.
Sokolove is convinced that until parents rise up, demand research,
education, preventive programs, and most of all, a saner sports
culture, more spirited young female athletes will be injured, some
‘Bikeman: An Epic Poem’
By Thomas F. Flynn (Andrews McMeel, $12.99)
Thomas Flynn, an award-winning television producer and writer,
climbed on his bicycle and headed off to the World Trade Center the
morning of Sept. 11, 2001, a day that would change America forever.
Written in searing free verse, the grief and horror of 9/11 is captured
in Flynn’s poem, a poem that deserves to be read and pondered.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir’
By Haruki Murakami and Philip Gabriel (Knopf, $21)
The work of prize-winning author Haruki Murakami has been translated
into 42 languages. In 1982, shortly after he sold his Tokyo jazz club,
he began running to keep fit. Since then, he has jogged almost every
day, run in at least one marathon every year and participated in
countless long-distance races all around the world. According to
Murakami, most of what he knows about writing he’s learned through
running every day even though he adds that he runs in order to create a
void. Sometimes an occasional thought slips into this void and those
thoughts are the basis of this sensitive, well-crafted, potent little
‘Good Design Can Change Your Life: Beautiful Rooms, Inspiring Stories’
By Ty Pennington (Simon & Schuster, $25, softbound)
I suspect Ty Pennington, host of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home
Edition,” had very little to do with the contents of this book. Even
though there are dozens of pictures of him scattered throughout, the
text has a cobbled feel to it as if it was drawn from several sources.
Most of the designs are so retro, I had to keep looking at the cover to
make certain I wasn’t flipping through the Sears autumn catalog from
1957. Those who are Pennington fans will rejoice. In my opinion, he has
evolved from a person into a brand. The big mystery is how and why he
has developed the staying power in our popular culture of that of a
‘The Almanac of Political Corruption, Scandals & Dirty Politics’
By Kim Long (Delta, $14 softbound)
Just in time for the November election, readers are treated to a
trip down memory lane in an illustrated history that serves up more
than 300 years of the very worst of American politics. Republicans and
Democrats are equally skewered as bribe-takers, thieves, philanderers,
vote-riggers, restroom foot-tappers, tax evaders and even a few
murderers are frog-walked across the pages. Simply put, this dandy
little book tells all including naming the only president (so far) to
be arrested while in office, the U.S. congressman who castrated two men
he suspected of having affairs with his wife, and the only senator
involved in the Keating Five Scandal still remaining in office (U.S.
Grant, Robert Potter , and John McCain).
‘I Love My Pool! The Perfect Pool in Five Easy Steps’
By Ken Christensen (Romantic America Books, $19.95 softbound)
Almost everyone in Tucson either has a pool or access to one. Ken
Christensen, a Florida-based writer, has developed the EZ Clear Pool
Care System, a five-step program that he claims can help pool owners
maintain a pool that is sparking, clear and trouble-free. His in-depth
chapters take much of the mystery out of such things as filters and
pumps, automated floor vacuums, salt and chlorinating systems, water
treatments and even child safety protocol.
‘Sweet on the West: How Candy Built a Colorado Treasure’
By Ann Scarlett Daley and others (University of Oklahoma Press, $21.98 softbound)
In 1941, Bill Harmsen moved his wife, Dorothy, and their infant son,
Bill Jr., into a modest farmhouse in Wheatridge, Colo., just outside of
Denver. To supplement the family’s income, Dorothy raised raspberries,
strawberries and flower bulbs on the 10 acres that surrounded the
house. Eight years later, a small storefront was rented in Golden and
the family started the Jolly Rancher Candy Co. From that humble
beginning, it became one of Colorado’s most famous businesses. Even
sweeter than their candy was their Western art which was eventually
donated to the Denver Art Museum. This delicious new book is a tribute
to the Harmsens’ legacy, as businesspeople as well as philanthropists.
A roundup of Larry Cox’s recommended new books