Very different noteworthy books highlight Tulare County

For my inaugural book notes column I will comment on two very different books. The first, a well-known classic novel, was originally published some 70 years ago. The second is a recently published work of nonfiction. Both are noteworthy given each one's connection to Tulare County.

'The Grapes of Wrath'

John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," among the greatest American novels ever written, is worth revisiting given the recent, excellent stage production of this work by the College of the Sequoias Drama Department.

Steinbeck's epic work is important for its stark portrait of life during the Great Depression a time with many economic similarities to today, but without the government safety net programs established during the New Deal of the 1930s.

The author's vivid prose and acute insights bring to life the desperate situation of those Americans who suffered. We see their struggles through the eyes of the Joad family as they migrate from Oklahoma's Dust Bowl to California's Central Valley in search of a better life.

The story, set in Tulare and Kern counties, presents the region in less-than-flattering terms. The novel's iconic closing scene, which occurs in Tulare County, presents the Joad family as destitute and homeless as the winter rains set in. The book was both banned and burned locally when first published in 1939 but has stood the test of time and is considered one of the most important works dealing with the Great Depression.

    'A Walk Around Visalia'

Presenting a contrast both in tone and tenor is George Pilling's recently published "A Walk Around Visalia." Pilling, district librarian for Visalia Unified Schools, has produced a fascinating, fact-filled book.

Attractive and profusely illustrated, it is essentially a "walking guide" to noteworthy local sites -specifically older historic homes, commercial buildings, and other manmade structures. It also describes Visalia's natural environment its trees, plants, birds and other landscape features.

Included is a series of well-drawn maps for each of the nine walks described.

Pilling's carefully crafted book is the product of some six years of extensive research with the author characterizing it as "a labor of love" designed to "make people aware of what makes Visalia so special." It is highly recommended for all those seeking a greater understanding of Visalia's fascinating history in relationship to its environment both natural and man-made.

In considering future books for notice in this column, I particularly welcome information about recently published books by local authors dealing with Tulare County.