By John Steinbeck
This was another book I read when I was in London doing the musical Oklahoma! with Trevor Nunn, who loves to think of everything in naturalistic terms. Oklahoma! is set about 20 years before The Grapes of Wrath. It shows American farm life before the Dust Bowl, and The Grapes of Wrath, obviously, is what came next. I was mesmerized by Tom Joad. He's living a very egocentric life at the beginning of the novel, but along his family's arduous trip to California, he is transformed into someone else entirely. I think the turning point occurs once he's finally found work picking peaches. He's so happy that he can feed his family, but he then discovers that he's a strikebreaker. He's faced with an impossible dilemma: He's either supporting his family or putting the livelihoods of others in his community at risk. I connected with that arc of going outward. It wasn't so long ago that my life was just all about me. Right around the time I read that book, of course, I was married and gradually realizing that with the opportunities you get you have responsibility beyond your family, beyond your community—and if you have some power to do things, you should do them.