When I realized I had to read Of Mice and Men again this summer, I wondered how quickly I could do it.
I assigned this novel for summer reading for my incoming 9th and 10th graders, and it recently occurred to me that that meant I would have to read it myself. The last time I read the book was somewhere in the neighborhood of eighth grade. I don't remember the assignment, but I do remember that it came in the Steinbeck onslaught of the middle years, which started with The Red Pony and ended with East of Eden. (More on relationship with Steinbeck here.)
Today was the perfect day for me to do my speed trial. I put away all my distracting devices and got at it. I had chatted with my wife and got some expert advice from Twitter friends, and decided to set the over/under for my little experiment at 70 minutes.
I was confident about beating 70 minutes. The book is 107 tiny pages long, and I normally read at a minute-per-page clip. Renee, my wife, whose first estimate of my time was four hours, took the over.
And so, I re-read the book. I was afraid to find that its power had faded in the 22 or so years since I had read it last, that it would come across as a nice book for 9th grade teachers to assign, but not much more than that. But, for the most part, this did not happen, and reading the novel was not a chore. It still has the power to startle me, even though its story is so familiar and its two main characters have achieved something like mythological status. Of Mice and Men is a simple story, but it is not simplistic. It's not an allegory or a fable, but a true story about real characters. Steinbeck expresses the ideals of populism better than anyone before or after him.
And it takes five pages for Slim to kill Candy's dog. That's just the worst part of the entire story. It's even sadder than the last scene.
So, how did I do?
It took me 82 minutes. My wife, as usual, was right.