Literary Dinner | East of Eden
We've had our eyes on East of Eden ever since we read Tortilla Flat for a book club at the beginning of the year. It's been said about a gazillion times, but, we swear it doesn't matter what John Steinbeck writes, his work is just brilliant. It's full of depth, great prose, and populated with interesting and incredibly well developed characters. He also has a way of imparting wisdom so casually that is so understated it's striking.
"You are one of those rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect."
East of Eden is a rather large novel (as you can see), and is not one you can rush. Much to our surprise, we each found ourselves in no hurry to finish the book, but rather savored it as time allowed, and stayed immersed in each part as it unfolded. There's so much involved in a multi-generational family book such as this, and it was an interesting world to be in, so taking our time really allowed us to experience the depth of the experience this book provides.
While we only pick a book to buddy read once per month, it's so exciting to draw out the details worth bringing to life from the book into a dinner party. Often, it's more the general setting than anything else we feel inspired by, but specific mentions of food, drink, or decor (like red and yellow roses) within the text always find their way into the scenes we set. We also really try to read seasonally, and managed to be spot on this time because East of Eden was so perfectly in line with the mood of late summer.
The main concept for this was "farm to table", and just to keep things on the rustic side. Jars for lemonade, simple white plates and linens, canned goods from Rikki's pantry, garden tools, vintage pyrex bowls, wire egg baskets filled with fresh produce, and a picnic table set out by the garden really helped bring that vision to life. From the florals, greenery, and drinks, to picking goodies straight from the garden, we couldn't have enjoyed this simple, rustic setup outdoors any more.
Most of the food mentioned in the book is rustic, picnic-type fare, so we tried to stay true to that feel. We assembled a farm fresh salad alongside a platter of bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, pickles and rustic bread to assemble our own BLT sandwiches, with potato salad to round it out. We followed this with a delicious berry tart as a nod to Liza's thanksgiving pie. The blueberry lemonade was a hit with us and our kiddos both, and we couldn't get enough of it as the mid-afternoon temperatures reached an all-summer high.
It's really incredible to sit amongst elements of a book you just read and just allow your imagination to take you back to specific points in the novel that so often feels so real. This book was exceptionally difficult to put down, especially as the fourth and final part came to a close. We LOVED this book, and quite frankly, we would read Steinbeck's grocery lists. Discussing this book together was basically an excited tangle of how much we each enjoyed it, while we took a look into favorite characters and expressed an appreciation for how warm the whole thing was, despite the drama and heavier subject matter and subtext.
We're really looking forward to watching the movie and deciding which one of Steinbeck's novels we'll pick up next. Travels with Charley, maybe? Do you have any good recommendations?