I interviewed the very busy Lee Cataluna last year around this time and find it interesting how the context of our economic situation and concerns remain relevant. I’ve included the full interview below.

What I’m Reading | Lee Cataluna
Columnist, Playwright

Q&A with Christine Thomas
Short version published in the Honolulu Advertiser 11.08

CT: What are you reading?

LC: “The Human Comedy” by William Saroyen. And I just finished Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

CT: How did you discover them?

LC: I read Steinbeck in school and wanted to revisit his work. Saroyan wrote about generally the same area in California, though a few decades later. My husband suggested I read him next since the books have geography and, to some extent, a kind of morality in common.

CT: What is their shared morality and how does it manifest?

LC: Particularly in “The Grapes of Wrath,” just the idea of the blessed nature of work—that work is that’s all they want. The family wants to work to support themselves, and no work is beneath them. They’re desperate but they’re also honorable in their horrible plight and the seriousness with which they take their work; it’s what they pray for and look for every day. They take responsibility for their well being—they think they can work their way out of every situation.

Some of that comes out in “The Human Comedy” as well. It focuses on a 12 year-old boy who delivers telegrams, and he takes that so seriously because some are from the war department telling families that their sons have been killed. He’s this little kid on a bicycle but he has a solemn path. But the reason he takes this job is not just a lark, it’s to help his family. …

CT: Is this what you liked most about them?

LC: “The Grapes of Wrath” is just such a beautiful book; it’s an American classic. The human spirit to endure the worst and to keep the family together is what I liked most about both books.

CT: Does looking back at these times spark column ideas related to our current hard economic times?

LC: I think a lot of times in our current economic situation we reference the Great Depression. We’re a country just starting to measure ourselves against history—are we worse off than we were then, are we going to get that bad? Thoughts have turned to the Great Depression very often. For me I just wanted to read a book about that time—it is fiction—but to get that perspective. But in terms of writing columns, no I don’t get ideas from reading fiction. I get it from everywhere.