All reviews copyright 1984-2012 Evelyn C. Leeper.
AMERICA AND THE AMERICANS by John Steinbeck:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/25/2003]
John Steinbeck's AMERICA AND THE AMERICANS is quite readable, if a bit dated. It does not cover the Norse explorations, but instead looks at the current (as of 1966) state of affairs, including only as much history as is necessary. And Steinbeck's political positions are made clear throughout. Consider his description of moving the Indians from land that white settlers wanted to undesirable land: "This process took an unconscionably long and bloody time, and mistakes were made, such as the prime one of moving the Cherokee tribes from the Appalachian Mountains to the West and settling them on unpromising-looking Oklahoma. When oil was discovered there, the mistake was apparent; but for some of the Indians it was too late--they kept the oil." One can't help but feel that his writing may have been influenced by Mark Twain.
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CANNERY ROW by John Steinbeck:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/18/2005]
Our discussion group read John Steinbeck's CANNERY ROW (ISBN 0-14-018737-5). One thing that stuck me of interest to fantasy fans was that Steinbeck's description of the "Chinaman" in Chapter 4 seemed like the inspiration for Jack Finney's Dr. Lao.
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THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/13/2007]
The movie made from THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck (ISBN-10 0-14-004239-3, ISBN-13 978-0-14-004239-9) is a classic. But reading the book made me realize that the movie-making process had still sucked all the color and almost all the heart out of it. Steinbeck spends a lot of the book giving you intense word pictures of the land, the take-over by the banks, a day at a used car lot, a day at a roadside cafe, and so on. All of these were dropped for the movie. (For example, the Joads have a car, but the whole process of getting it, and what the used car salesman was thinking, is gone.) The entire sub-plot of the joining of the Joads with the Wilsons is gone. And what is left is much shorter--shorter discussions of how the migrants are treated by the sheriffs, by the local merchants, by the growers, by each other. And of course the ending was completely changed as well. I know that a lot of this is part of the process of transferring a novel to the screen, but it would be a pity for people to skip reading a great book because after all, they had seen the movie.
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THE LOG FROM THE SEA OF CORTEZ by John Steinbeck:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/07/2007]
THE LOG FROM THE SEA OF CORTEZ by John Steinbeck (ISBN-13 978-0-140-18744-1, ISBN-10 0-140-18744-8) is Steinbeck's journal of a biological collecting trip (on a shoestring) through the Sea of Cortez, a.k.a. the Gulf of California. Steinbeck explains that he calls it by its older name because "that is a better- sounding and a more exciting name." As you might guess from that, there is more here than just a description of all the specimens they found.
There is travelogue: "One fine thing about Mexican officials is that they greet a fishing boat with the same serious ceremony they would afford the Queen Mary, and the Queen Mary would have to wait just as long. This made us feel very good and not rebellious about the port fees--absent in this case! We came to them and they made us feel, not like stodgy people in a purse- seiner but like ambassadors from Ultra-Marina bringing letters of greeting out of the distances. It is no wonder that we too scurried for clean shirts, that Tony put on his master's cap, and Tiny polished the naval insignia on his, which he had come by no doubt honestly in a washroom in San Diego. We were not smart, not very alert, but we were clean and we smelled rather delicious. Sparky sprinkled us with shaving lotion and we filled the air with the odor of flowers. If the brazo, the double embrace, should be indicated by any feeling of uncontrollable good-will, we were ready." (page 205)
There is philosophy: "There is a strange duality in the human that makes for an ethical paradox. We have definitions of good qualities and bad. Of the good we always think of wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, humility; and the qualities of cruelty, greed, self-interest, graspingness and rapacity are universally considered undesirable. And yet in our structure of our society, the so-called and considered good qualities are invariable concomitants of failure, while the bad ones are the cornerstone of success. A man--a viewing point man--while he will love the abstract good qualities, and detest the abstract bad, will nevertheless admire the person who through exercising the bad qualities has succeeded economically and socially, and will hold in contempt that person whose good qualities have caused failure. When such a man thinks of Jesus, or St. Augustine, or Socrates he regards them with love because they are symbols of the good he admires, and he hates the symbols of the bad. But actually he himself would rather be successful, than good." (page 112)
And there is even poetry (or perhaps incoherence--take your pick): "For in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the trait of hope still controls the future, and man. not a species, but a triumphant race, will approach perfection, and, finally, tearing himself free, will march up the stars and take his place where, because of his power and virtue, he belongs: on the right hand of [the pi-th root of -1]." (page 103)
It is, however, marred by more typos than I would have expected of a Penguin edition: "whether" for "weather", "wtih" for "with", "string" for "sting", and so on. Not all the errors are Penguin's, though; I suspect the triple occurrence of "octopi" for "octopuses" is Steinbeck's own. There is a glossary and an index for people, places, and animals, but with as much philosophy as Steinbeck included, the index should have included ideas as well. (I have no idea if the typos have been corrected in later editions.)
While not a classic in the same sense as Charles Darwin's THE VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE, Steinbeck's LOG FROM THE SEA OF CORTEZ is must-reading for anyone interested in how field work was carried out in the 1930s by those not endowed with large grants.
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SWEET THURSDAY by John Steinbeck:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/10/2004]
My "non-specific" book discussion group read John Steinbeck's SWEET THURSDAY (ISBN 0-140-18750-2), a sequel to CANNERY ROW. Everyone else loved it and thought it hilarious, but while I saw some humor in it, it did not strike me that strongly. (On the other hand, I thought Nikolai Gogol's DEAD SOULS was very funny, and parts of Herman Melville's MOBY DICK crack me up.) But since it was so popular, it was decided to read CANNERY ROW for the January meeting.
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TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY by John Steinbeck:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/24/2008]
I liked TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY by John Steinbeck (ISBN-13 978-0-142-00070-0, ISBN-10 0-142-00070-1) so much that I recommended it for my afternoon reading group. In the 1960s, Steinbeck traveled across the United States and back, making observations about the country and how much things had changed in his lifetime. Reading it now, one gets a second level of realization--that of how much things have changed since the 1960s. (Charley, by the way, was Steinbeck's dog.)
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