Either deadpan or straight-faced, Jonathon Yardley in the Washington Post writes:
"The only reason I can come up with for the high esteem in which Steinbeck is still held is his transparent sincerity. It has long been my pet theory that in the popular marketplace, readers instinctively distinguish between writers whose work draws on genuine feeling and those who rely on art or artifice, and that they reward the former while repudiating the latter. From Jacqueline Susann to Danielle Steel, from James Michener to James Patterson, readers have recognized the sincerity of feeling beneath the utter lack of literary merit, and have rewarded it accordingly."
Yardley links Steinbeck's sincerity with his popularity. This implies that insincerity - or more generously, irony, art, rhetoric and artifice - is the realm of great art. Certainly Steinbeck's novels are deeply felt and badly written, but forget the books for a second - Steinbeck himself is considerably more charming than his contemporaries like the preachy Sinclair Lewis.
John Steinbeck's writing interests me only insofar as I get up close and personal with the author. He fascinates. Steinbeck encapsulates the symbol of Pisces, the elusive fish of classical paganism. Divinely dodgy, sweetly two-faced, a successful loser, and an inspirational figure via the agency of his profound inadequacies as a writer - how can we fail to appreciate this man of paradox? I would do him.
The fact that John Steinbeck is assigned to school children is depressingly Leninist - which is to say it lacks even the redemption of bad taste. Who does not find Steinbeck's downtrodden poor folk boring - it's like 'Les Miserables' without Valjean, or Gogol without the jokes.
I am sure others find Steinbeck's books dull, unless soul clap its hands and sing, and they recognise the man behind the melodrama. Otherwise, assigning Steinbeck to school-children in order to increase class consciousness is, as the little darlings say, "completely douche".