Steinbeckathon 2012: In Dubious Battle

Talk75 Books Challenge for 2012

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Steinbeckathon 2012: In Dubious Battle

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Edited: Sep 2, 2012, 2:11 pm

"In the California apple country, nine hundred migratory workers rise up 'in dubious battle' against the landowners. The group takes on a life of its own - stronger than its individual members and more frightening. Led by the doomed Jim Nolan, the strike is founded on his tragic idealism - on the 'courage never to submit or yield.''

First published in 1936. This may be the first Steinbeck novel that became "socially aware", tackling the issues of the time.

I'm Mark and I'm hosting this classic. I may not get to the book myself, for a couple of weeks, but feel free to jump in at anytime. Please be careful of spoilers. Thanks!

Steinbeckathon Main Thread:

Sep 2, 2012, 9:26 am

Mark - Thanks for setting up this thread! I am looking forward to this one, and I promise to actually read it since I missed out on the last two (although I am currently reading The Red Pony, and I will get to East of Eden at some point). My book has the same cover as the first entry above.

Sep 2, 2012, 10:11 am

My book is on the way to me at my library, and I'll be starting fairly soon. I've learned so much from the Steinbeckathon, and I'm looking forward to reading yet another facet of Steinbeck. And it's so much fun to be reading with you all!

Karen O.

Sep 2, 2012, 2:08 pm

Thanks for setting up the thread Mark. I've reserved my library copy and should get it within a couple of weeks.

Mark, could I just ask you to please include a link back to the main Steinbeckathon thread in that first message? Thanks!

Sep 2, 2012, 2:13 pm

Ilana- You are welcome. I added it to the top!

Sep 3, 2012, 2:08 am

Got an email from the bookshop, my copy has been ordered. Will take a week or so to turn up, and I'll slot it in sometime soon after that. Not a lot of reading commitments on my plate this month (phew!).

Sep 3, 2012, 11:54 pm

Hi Mark. Thanks for starting us up for September! I know nothing about this novel, but will try to get a copy and join in, of course!

Sep 4, 2012, 3:12 am

Thanks for setting this up, Mark. I've got the book and am going into this read totally blind. I never heard anything about it and the cover I have doesn't tell me squat so thanks for the little blurb to get me started.

Edited: Sep 10, 2012, 8:48 am

I just downloaded the Kindle version.

Somehow I felt less tempted my this one than by the previous ones, but I am determined to read it and maybe I am in for a great surprise, as was the case with The Winter of Our Discontent and The Wayward Bus.

Edit: and with the first chapter Steinbeck already got me, reminds me of a 1930s crime novel

Sep 10, 2012, 7:08 pm

I've got my copy from the library, have glanced through the introductory pages (meh), and my bookmark is at the start of chapter 1. I'll try to get the first chapter read tonight. Deern, thanks for the incentive!

Karen O.

Sep 11, 2012, 5:03 am

Not a spoiler I guess - chapter 4:
While I never was a smoker, somehow the short discourse on cigarettes made me feel a little nostalgic. Isn't this a nice sentence and completely unthinkable in modern literature: "You ought to take up smoking. It's a nice social habit".

Sep 13, 2012, 6:49 am

#11 I'm not a smoker either, Nathalie but I know first hand how true that sentence can be. At weddings, for example, my husband leaves the party to go outside for a smoke and comes back in with four new friends, whlle I've been inside talking to the same old bunch of relatives. Go figure.

Speaking of sentences, I thought the first in the book was loaded with possibilites, "At last it was evening." I think I'm becoming a Steinbeckaholic!

Sep 18, 2012, 9:10 pm

Hi Guys! Sorry, I'm being such a poor host! The good news is, I'm nearly finished with the book. I'm on chapter 13. And it's been excellent throughout. This might be my 2nd favorite Steinbeck.
I think our timing for this G.R. was ideal, with labor and unions taking such a hit in America. The Chicago Teachers strike is one example. (Actually, that issue was just settled).
It still amazes me, that these union organizers were so courageous, selfless and completely tenacious.

Sep 18, 2012, 9:13 pm

"Prior to publication, Steinbeck wrote in a letter:

'This is the first time I have felt that I could take the time to write and also that I had anything to say to anything except my manuscript book. You remember that I had an idea that I was going to write the autobiography of a Communist. ... There lay the trouble. I had planned to write a journalistic account of a strike. But as I thought of it as fiction the thing got bigger and bigger. It couldn't be that. I've been living with this thing for some time now. I don't know how much I have got over, but I have used a small strike in an orchard valley as the symbol of man's eternal, bitter warfare with himself.'

Edited: Sep 20, 2012, 6:56 am

I was not familiar (though I had an idea) with the word Wobblies first mentioned in Chapter 6. Here's a explanation from widipedia in case others were wondering.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies) is an international union. At its peak in 1923, the organization claimed some 100,000 members in good standing and could marshal the support of perhaps 300,000 workers. Its membership declined dramatically after severe government repression as part of the first Red Scare and a 1924 split brought on by internal conflict. IWW membership does not require that one work in a represented workplace,3 nor does it exclude membership in another labor union.4

The IWW contends that all workers should be united as a class and that the wage system should be abolished.5 They are known for the Wobbly Shop model of workplace democracy, in which workers elect their managers6 and other forms of grassroots democracy (self-management) are implemented.

In 2012 the IWW moved its General Headquarters offices to 2036 West Montrose, Chicago.7

The origin of the nickname "Wobblies" is uncertain.8

Sep 20, 2012, 10:12 pm

>13 msf59: This might be my 2nd favorite Steinbeck.
msf59, What is your first favorite Steinbeck (so far)?

>14 msf59: & 15 Thanks for the info. I am not that far into the book (loving it so far). Had to laugh at Al's soup, meat, two vegetables, a cup of coffee and a piece of pie for a QUARTER deal! That's when you know the book is old.

Sep 29, 2012, 8:49 pm

Well, I won't be finishing In Dubious Battle in September, but I have great hopes for October! I haven't yet gotten to the point where the story grabs me, as the other Steinbeck books have. I'm thinking it's just a few pages more...

Karen O.

Sep 30, 2012, 4:49 am

I finished it some days ago. It's not among my favorite Steinbecks either, but it has its strong moments and ever relevant thoughts/theories, and another strong ending.
The 'mob theory' gave me a chill. So true... what's wrong with us? *sigh*

Sep 30, 2012, 8:54 am

>avidmom- My favorite Steinbeck is Grapes of Wrath, which also happens to be my favorite book.

Karen- I hope the book has improved for you. I think it's one of his best.

Anyone else finish it or about to?

Sep 30, 2012, 11:10 am

I finished it a few days ago; it's not my favorite Steinbeck so far but I did like it. It did remind me of Grapes of Wrath a bit.

>Deern, I had the same reaction you did to the "mob mentality." The scheming manipulation being pulled by both sides was also disturbing.

Oct 1, 2012, 6:54 pm

I was able to squeeze in In Dubious Battle before the clock struck 12 last night.
Not one of my favorite Steinbeck's, but he offers so much insight into situations which I have little knowledge. On to Tortilla Flat!

Oct 12, 2012, 5:46 pm

Finished In Dubious Battle today. I was enjoying it more than I'd expected but then about halfway through it became quite a chore. I was never bothered by Steinbeck's man's world before but in this novel it confronted me on every page. So much unpleasantness too, it's just overwhelming! Then at one point, he compares the women in the striker's camp to rats and I got truly mad. I would probably have given up on it if it had been an audiobook, but print books seem to demand a bigger investment somehow, since I'm such a slow reader. Anyway, I'm done with it and good riddance!

Oct 12, 2012, 8:38 pm

I laughed when I read your last sentence! I've been toying with the idea of not finishing this Steinbeck--I'm having trouble finding motivation for doing so with this one. I'm finding so many other books that I want to read instead of it!

Congratulations on finishing it!

Karen O.

Oct 12, 2012, 10:12 pm

Thanks Karen. I think this might be one of those books that may grow on me as time goes by. But I'll certainly never include it among my favourite Steinbecks!

Oct 12, 2012, 10:40 pm

Anyway, I'm done with it and good riddance!

Makes me kind of glad I skipped that month.....

Oct 13, 2012, 3:24 am

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Oct 14, 2012, 12:22 pm

#25 Well, it wasn't exactly a brilliant endorsement on my part, but that's truly how I felt about it in the end. Who knows? You may have like it Ellen...

Oct 14, 2012, 5:31 pm

I finished some time ago, and it was not my favourite Steinbeck (sorry to its fans). And apologies for being late with my comments!

I didn't find the characters fully fleshed out (compare our introduction to Tom Joad where we know so much about him in a few paragraphs to the complete blank cipher that is Jim here); I found Sam appalling in his "win at all costs" mentality (I almost threw the book across the room when he said it didn't matter if the girl had died in childbirth when he interfered because he could have used her death as well); and it was only the ending that I thought was powerful.

It was such an important story though (I'm a strong believer in Unions). I'm not sure if I'm happy because of the importance of what was being said; or annoyed because it failed to be as great as it should have been.