During the month of February, I read four books: “Of Mice and Men” and “The Pearl,” both by John Steinbeck, “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, and “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare. You may have figured out the secret already: in order to finish one book a week, one must choose short books, 250 pages or less.
Three of the four books this month were about 80 pages each. Steinbeck’s books do not even qualify as novels. They call them novellas and I listened to them through Libby, the free library app. Each title took less than three hours. Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” went on for only 78 pages. Without realizing it, I was implementing one of the principles I read about in “Atomic Habits.”
“Atomic Habits” proposes that if we want to introduce new habits in our lives we must start with small changes: five minutes at the gym, not 30; short books, not lengthy ones. Let the habit grow on you before you impose a massive change on yourself, which is not sustainable in the long run. Like atoms, small new habits create a big explosion in your routine while you implement them consistently. The book itself goes by fast, as it contains only 150 pages. The author uses a lot of repetition to drill in the new principles. I read it from the Gatlinburg library.
Everybody knows the story of Julius Caesar and what the Ides of March means, but did you know the assassination happened in the middle of the play? I did not. Shakespeare knew how to organize the story in such a way to really drive home the point that for every action there is a reaction.
The first half leads up to Caesar’s death, the second half covers the aftermath. The conspirators must face the consequences of their own actions.
To this day, Marc Antony’s speech remains one of the best examples of how to turn a crowd 180 degrees. “Lend me your ears” sounds beautiful if not very different to a 21st century reader, just like the rest of the Shakespearean language. I like to bask in the Bard of Avon’s phrases, but sometimes I have no idea what he meant. My Dover Thrift Edition has footnotes on every page, explaining different phrases.
Why read Steinbeck? I wanted to finish The Pearl, which I had started seven years ago and never got past the first 10 pages. Steinbeck’s books usually happen in California, but this one unfurls in Mexico, with roots in Mexican oral tradition and folklore. Steinbeck develops universal themes like good and evil, family, paradox, and perseverance — so 2023, don’t you think?
The same goes for “Of Mice and Men.” Loneliness, powerlessness, euthanasia, aspirations — the novella covers these themes through a flawless story with contemporary reverberations. That’s what makes a classic a classic. We can relate to the struggles of the characters even though we live in a different time and place. I listened to the Libby audiobook read by Gary Sinise, who, by the way, plays George in the most recent movie adaptation of the novel.
Adriana Zoder resides in Gatlinburg. A homeschooling mom of two, Zoder is the author of eight books and blogs at HomeschoolWays.com. You can email her at email@example.com.