Sunday, January 17, 2010

John Steinbeck

Lauren's dad gave me a box set of Steinbeck books for Christmas and I've read almost all of them now. Overall, Steinbeck seems very orthodox in a way that I find comforting. Here are my thoughts on the books in the order of when I read them.

Cannery Row (1945) - Reading this book first was key to my sustained interest in Steinbeck over the past two weeks or so. It is about Ed Ricketts, and Steinbeck's scene around Monterrey California. Ricketts was a marine biologist and seems like a very good person - I think Steinbeck really loved him. There were a bunch of fuck up types in the book; they lived in a flophouse and worked just enough to get by, seemingly doomed to always fuck everything up and be lazy and irresponsible, and Steinbeck and Ricketts viewed them as kind of holy. The Pearl (1947) - If I had read this first I probably would not have read the other books; the tone was always 'profound' or mythological. The dialogue was stylized in the manner of 'simple wise people'. A retelling of a Mexican folk tale, which seemed to have nothing at all to do with Steinbeck's life. Grapes of Wrath (1939) - But I guess I will allow myself to be interested in 'fictions' or 'contrivance', and will use my time to consume this kind of material so long as I agree with or empathize with the person responsible for them. I never read GoW in school on account of being Canadian, and was surprised when I started to really get into it. The chapters alternate between straightforward third person scenes of Tom and the Joad family, and then more of a collective / historical voice. I learned a lot about soil, farming, model t fords, and the great depression. I was especially surprised with the image that ends the novel and how fucked up it was. Travels with Charley In Search of America (1962) - Here Steinbeck is old and sad. There were some parts that were good or interesting, and other parts that were not. Steinbeck is not super funny, IMO, and this kind of structure, the journey structure, which lends itself to 'riffing', doesn't really work as well without a lot of laughs, I think. He really still seems like he wants to be 'a man' here. I feel like he is kind of delusional at this point in his life. Of Mice and Men (1937) - Probably my favorite prose style in the Steinbeck ouvre. I was reminded of reading this in grade eleven. I sat beside Karen Osberg in English class, and the teacher was like, "Mice and Men is playing at the Queen E (theatre downtown vancouver), if anybody wants to go you can get extra credit". Karen and I 'went together'. I think she wore makeup; still not sure if it was a date. Now I think it was probably 'my first date', though part of me still fears Karen would disagree. East of Eden (1952) - Currently about half way through this. "Sprawling". Lots of descriptions of landscape. Lots of 'wisdom': "a servant loses his initiative", "if (the story) troubles us it must be that we find the trouble in ourselves", "I enjoy being mediocre because I understand the loneliness inherent in greatness", etc. Really good.