Episode 266 – Book Club with Peter

Peter and Trevor discuss a range of fiction and non-fiction books that  IFVG listeners might want to read.


  1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
  2. The Canon of Scripture by FF Bruce (1988)
  3. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (160-180 CE)
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (1974)
  5. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)
  6. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (1874)
  7. A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan (1989)
  8. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  9. 1984 or Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945 & 1949)
  10. Death Sentence by Don Watson (2003)DEAD AUTHORS SOCIETY (or LITERATURE FOR BUSY PEOPLE)

Elif Shafak: ‘We need to tell different stories, to humanise the other’

From The Guardian

History has shown that it doesn’t start with concentration camps or mass murder, or civil war or genocide. It always starts with words: stereotypes, cliches, tropes. The fight against dehumanisation, therefore, also needs to start with words. Stories. It is easier to make sweeping generalisations about others if we know close to nothing about them; if they remain an abstraction. To move forward, we need to reverse the process: start by rehumanising those who have been dehumanised. And for that we need the art of storytelling.

Data and factual information are crucial, but not enough to bring down the walls of numbness and indifference, to help us empathise with people outside our tribes. We need emotional connections. But more than that, just as we need sisterhood against patriarchy, we need storyhood against bigotry. East or west, when we relate to others we do so through stories. Literature can be incredibly powerful, universally relevant and, most importantly, a healing force.

The Grapes of Wrath

From Study.com

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck published this famous novel in 1939, and it’s still widely read for pleasure and in high school English classrooms across the country. The novel is about a family that moves from Oklahoma, which was ”The Dustbowl” area of the United States that was suffering from drought and the Great Depression, to California in search of work. Steinbeck had a harder time choosing a title for the book than he did writing it; his wife helped him think of the phrase ”the grapes of wrath,” which comes from a couple different sources.

Origins of the Title

The phrase ”grapes of wrath” is a biblical allusion, or reference, to the Book of Revelation, passage 14:19-20, which reads, ”So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God.”

In this passage, the wrath of God is his anger and punishment over the evil that is in the world; this line is a metaphor, or comparison, using grapes and the wine press where the angel is helping God transform the grapes (evil on Earth) into God’s wrath, punishment, and justice (wine). Here, wine symbolizes the blood that will come from his wrath. Essentially, the quote is about God bestowing vengeance and justice upon the people who are evil on Earth and deserve punishment.

There is a second source that the title is a reference to, and this one is the famous song ”The Battle Hymn of the Republic”. Because the song was written in the context of American history and politics, it connects to The Grapes of Wrath more clearly because it’s also a text that is grounded in a specific time and place in American history. Julia Howe wrote ”The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861. The opening stanza references the biblical passage, but this time it uses the actual phrase ”the grapes of wrath,” which gives it a more obvious connection to the novel’s title. It reads:

”Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.”

Writing in 1861, Howe uses the reference to imply what it does in the Bible: predicting the end of evil and coming of justice. As a person writing in the 1860s in America, the evil about which she writes is clearly the violence surrounding the Civil War. It was actually the song, and not the Bible passage, that Steinbeck’s wife, Carol Henning, was thinking of when she suggested the title to Steinbeck.

The Atlantic

An article in the Atlantic

14 April 2016

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, was published on this day in 1939. Steinbeck’s story, which follows the struggling Joad family out of the Dust Bowl to California, took its title from Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”—which begins, as Jeff Goldberg noted in 2012, with “the most famous 12 words ever published in the pages of The Atlantic”:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Published in November 1862, the poem was an abolitionist battle cry, summing up the best causes that spurred the Union to civil war. As Jeff wrote, the line about the grapes of wrath “promises vengeance against the enemies of freedom”:

for the farmers of The Grapes of Wrath, sharecroppers and landowners alike, the power to grow is closely coupled with their sense of self. Which makes it doubly painful when the abundant fruits of their labor are destroyed in order to drive prices up:

The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listen to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is a failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

I’m rereading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time in several years. It strikes home in this U.S. election cycle, when wrath is animating both ends of the political spectrum. This country is angry at banks and at government, at insiders and immigrants, at entitled young people and complacent old people and people on both ends of a policeman’s gun. Bernie delivers his fiery gospel, Trump sounds forth his unretreating trumpet, and both are celebrated for their ability to “tell it like it is,” which in practice is the ability to feel wrath and show it.

It’s hard to say whether the Joads and their cohort, if voting today, would rally behind the Democratic outsider or the Republican one. On the one hand, the Okies and Arkies of Steinbeck’s novel support a socialist vision of shared resources, of all folks helping other folks; they have deep, tragic, tangible grievances with big business, and they’re getting ready to unionize. But on the other hand, they share traditions connected to Trump’s rise: the tendency “to stress sharply differentiated gender roles, to prize aggressiveness, and to disdain weakness,” as my colleague Yoni puts it, and to match “strong familial loyalty … with a clannish suspicion of outsiders.”

Most of all, they are men who have lost what’s theirs and want it back. Ma Joad’s cry—“They was the time when we was on the lan.’ We had a boundary then”—has parallels to Trump’s wall and his righteous slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

But even that is a call for transformation, similar to Bernie’s call for political revolution, and the call to make men free. Wrath can be, and is, a force behind change, and that may be the task ahead: to make our wrath bear wholesome fruit.


Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance


Might interest you – in the book the author describes sections (which are lessons on philosophy) as Chautauquas (pronounced sha-tark-qua)


Am wondering if the IFVG is a secular Chautauqua?


Chautauqua (/ʃəˈtɔːkwə/ shə-TAW-kwə) was an adult education and social movement in the United States, highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s. The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, showmen, preachers, and specialists of the day.[1] Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt was quoted as saying that Chautauqua is “the most American thing in America.”[2]

One comment on “Episode 266 – Book Club with Peter
  1. Edward says:

    Sorry I missed this episode when it first aired but really great to listen to it.  Glad I could find and send Pete a copy of A Bright Shining Lie.

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