Cherie Crain
My son died in 1980. My life ended then, too.

I picked up Steinbeck's East of Eden to help get me through my first Christmas.

For all the platitudes and recommendations read by me or given me by well-meaning friends, no words of 'how to deal' approached those spoken by Eden's Samuel Hamilton to his empty-shell-of-a-young-friend Adam. He told him to act like he was alive. It's an act, for sure; but you pretend like you're a normal person doing normal person things, and then one day, after a very long time, you'll find that you're no longer an act.

I remember at first walking through crowds [thinking], 'These people think I'm just like them. They haven't a clue I have no soul.'

Days turned into years, and my performances of laughter, interest, competition did, just as Samuel said, become the real thing.

As a teen and young woman taking on a world of promise, my guide for behavior was Scarlett O'Hara, with all her brashness and courage. But as a wiped-out single mother of 32, Samuel Hamilton alone gave me the wherewithal to put one foot in front of the other when brashness and courage were gone.

It was one of God's interventions in my life that I met up with John Steinbeck and East of Eden, surely an absorbing, marvelously characterized morality epic that hits you in the heart with its conflicts and wisdom, and hits you in the head with its symbols of good and evil.

But it's much more. It's the singularly most important thing I've ever read.