Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck

First Sentence:      A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green.

This is the story of two friends, George and the simple-minded Lenny. George has been looking out for his friend Lenny for many years and they come to be working on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley. Childlike Lenny is forever getting himself in trouble, unable to control his emotions or desires. George may as well be travelling with a small child. They both share a dream of one day owning their own place and living off the “fatta the lan'”, and just when this dream is in their grasp, things go horribly wrong. This is an excellent story, one that has endured for many years, and one that will doubtless go on enduring for many years more. Steinbeck’s writing is glorious and he sets a scene like no one else, so if you haven’t read any Steinbeck before, this is as good a place as any to start.

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A Riot of Goldfish

Kanoko Okamoto

First Sentence: Today again Mataichi scooped the tiny fish one by one into a shallow bowl and examined them carefully under a magnifying glass.

This is the story of Maitichi, the son of lower class goldfish sellers, who falls in love with the beautiful daughter of his wealthy patron. Maitichi is sent off to study goldfish breeding on the condition that he return and help his patron make his fortune. When he does return however, Masako is married with children and Maitichi has missed his chance with her. He then decides to devote his life to producing one ideal, perfect goldfish, to mirror Masako’s beauty. As the years go by this proves to be a lot more difficult than Maitichi had hoped. Overall I enjoyed this book as a short read but I don’t think I’d be recommending it to a lot of people. It’s a nice little fable with a sweet ending, but ultimately Maitichi has very few redeeming features and the writing doesn’t exactly leave a lasting impression. In fact, if it was any longer (it’s only 50 pages), I might not have finished it…

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