Between the Lines Book Club: The Grapes of Wrath

between the lines book club logoHey everybody, welcome back to Book Club!  Between the Lines is a virtual book club that meets every Friday.  It’s also an in-person book club that meets monthly in Sacramento, California at the Arden Dimick Library (891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA 95864).  Book Club meetings are at 2PM.  Here’s the Fall schedule and theme:

Rising Up:  Personal and Political Struggles for Freedom

All Meetings at Arden Dimick Library, at 2PM.

Sept 28:  The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

October 26:  The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson

November 16:  The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath was a long, passionate project for Steinbeck.  In 1936 he wrote a series of magazine articles for the San Francisco News.  The paper published the articles alongside photos by Dorothea Lange and the articles were later collected in a book, Harvest Gypsies.

cover of The Harvest Gypsies

Steinbeck gee up in California and did some farm labor while putting himself through college.  He found writing and researching  The Grapes of Wrath to be a nerve-wracking experience.  He kept a journal, which is still in print.  In the journal, he agonizes over his “lack of genius” and his “nerves”.     In addition to being passionately committed to telling the story of migrants, he was worried about war and personal matters as well.  According to The Telegraph, when he finished the book he said, “It isn’t the great book I had hoped it would be. It’s just a run-of-the-mill book.”

cover of Working Days


The Grapes of Wrath was instantly beloved and loathed.  We’ll talk more next week about the haters –  Grapes of Wrath was banned and literally burned.  It also became an instant best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for best novel.  In 1962 he won the Nobel prize for his collected writings.  Here’s an excerpt of the presentation speech.  you can find the full speech at  You can also see a video of Steinbeck’s banquet speech after the ceremony.

Among the masters of modern American literature who have already been awarded this Prize – from Sinclair Lewis to Ernest Hemingway – Steinbeck more than holds his own, independent in position and achievement. There is in him a strain of grim humour which, to some extent, redeems his often cruel and crude motif. His sympathies always go out to the oppressed, to the misfits and the distressed; he likes to contrast the simple joy of life with the brutal and cynical craving for money. But in him we find the American temperament also in his great feeling for nature, for the tilled soil, the wasteland, the mountains, and the ocean coasts, all an inexhaustible source of inspiration to Steinbeck in the midst of, and beyond, the world of human beings.

The Grapes of Wrath is taught in high schools and in universities around the world and has inspired plays as well as the famous film adaptation directed by John Ford.  Grapes of Wrath has had a lasting impact on the way people think about poverty and about migration.  In California, the book stays relevant throughout the years.  While the demographics of California have changed, migration and farm labor remain controversial, vital issues.


5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mary Shelley

maryshelleyMary Shelley had a birthday last week (August 30, 1797).  She had a hard life and I hope that right now she’s sitting on a heavenly cloud eating huge amounts of cake.  Here’s a few things you might not know about Mary Shelley:



  • You probably know that she wrote Frankenstein, which was first published in 1818, as part of a ghost writing contest with Lord Byron, John William Polodori, Percy Shelley (her husband), and Claire Clairmont (her stepsister, who was madly in love with Lord Byron and who was pregnant with his baby).  You probably don’t know that Mary re-wrote Frankenstein twice – once in 1823 and once in 1831.  Later versions were more conservative, leaving out passages about women’s desire for independence and a passage about a miscarriage of justice.  Later versions also put more emphasis on fate and destiny.
  • Mary Shelly’s mother, Mary Wollenscraft Shelly, was an ardent feminist who died of an infection a few days after Mary’s birth.  Mary was frequently reminded that her mother had brilliant and that Mary had better not let her mother’s death be in vain.
  • At the time when she first wrote Frankenstein, the eighteen-year-old Mary had already given birth twice, once to a daughter who was premature and who died a few weeks after the birth.
  • Mary ended up having five pregnancies and giving birth to four children, of which only one survived childhood.
  • Mary’s book The Last Man, features fictionalized versions of the group of friends she told ghost stories with in Italy.  By the time she wrote The Last Man, all but one of her children was dead, her husband and his best friend Lord Byron was dead, and many other members of Mary’s family and friends had also died young, tragic deaths.  The Last Man is an apocalyptic science fiction novel in which the world is devastated by plague.

original cover of Frankenstein

Mary’s most significant literary accomplishment was Frankenstein, but her greatest personal accomplishment was supporting herself and her son independently as a young widow in 19th Century England.  She had a tempestuous relationship with her father and her in-laws and received little support from them.  She was proposed to twice, but said “Having been married a genius, she could only marry another one”.  She did things her way.  Some things she did were clever and some were not but they were her own decisions.  Cake for Mary Shelley!


I’m a Featured Guest At Convolution 2014!

photoLast year I attended Convolution, a science fiction and fantasy convention in California.  This year I’m so excited to be back, as a featured guest!  I hope some of you can attend!  This is going to be a fun convention – in my experience, it’s packed with things to do but it’s also friendly and low-key.  There are workshops, panels, a masquerade, gorgeous crafts in the dealer’s room, and if last year is any indication, a lot of parties.

Here’s the when and Where for Convolution 2014:

Sept 26 – Sept 28, 2014

Hyatt Regency, SFO

Burlingame, CA

And, here’s my schedule!

Friday, Sept 26th:

1PM:  Opening Ceremonies

2-4PM:  We Love Wonder Woman!

This panel will talk about Wonder Woman’s enduring appeal as a feminist icon.  I’m looking forward to sharing the best Wonder Woman line of all time, “Great Girdle of Aphrodite, am I tired of being tied up!”

4-6PM:  Questions and Answers and Things that Go Bump in the Night

This panel is all question and answer – but the questions go into a hat and whoever draws the question must answer it.  Should be hilarious.

6PM – 8PM:  Meet The Guests

This is an informal gathering.  Please come and say hi!

8PM-10PM:  Delphic Oracle

I am not even going to attempt to describe this except that it involves comedic improv and I strongly suspect that it may also involve alcohol.  I certainly hope so.

Saturday, Sept 27th:

10AM – 12PM:  Inventors. Travellers, Scientists, Spies:  Real-Life Steampunk Women

The image of the Victorian Woman is that of prudish, housebound women, but many Victorian women lived lives of great intellect and adventure.  I’ll be talking about some of the women who out-steampunked steampunk – women like Ada Lovelace, mathematician and inventor, Gertrude Bell, explorer, and Lani Rakshmi Bai, leader and warrior.

12PM – 2PM:  Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

A meet-up for fans of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  Sarah Wendell, creator of the website, has hinted to me that I might be provided with swag.  Let’s talk romance and our favorite books!

2PM – 4PM:  Dragon, Wizards, and Vampires:  Their Origin and Development

I’m so excited about this panel because Gail Carriger is on it.  I plan to spend the panel staring at her in awe.  Or would that be creepy?

4P – 6PM:  Excuse Me, Princess!  The Greatest Love Stories of Sci Fi

 Sunday, Sept 28th:

10AM – 12PM:  Geek Parents Raising Geeklets

My daughter has been invited to participate on this panel with me.  I tremble to think of how she might answer the question, “What does your mom do to embarrass you?”  The mind boggles.

You can register at  Can’t wait!