I was once told a good novel will set its tenor by the end of its first page, so lately I've been skimming the first page of prospective reads to test this theory. When I did this with Steinbeck's East of Eden, I couldn't stop; the assault of great writing never let up, and I knew I was irretrievably in for the long haul. No one writes exactly like Steinbeck, and this century-spanning book about two families in California's Salinas Valley finds the writer at his culminating genius (Steinbeck said, "I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for [East of Eden]."). His prose is vivid, fine, and panoramic in vision; his characters are so richly cast that he's capable of inducing a genuine sense of the glories and tragedies they experience. I read this book so compulsively (I stayed up till 4:00 a.m. one night / cancelled dates with friends / ate soup from a can) that I'm almost mad at myself for not savoring it more slowly, but there's ample consolation in Steinbeck's prolific career for any of his insatiable, expectant readers. Good follow-up read: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters.