Review: Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
The Viking Press, 1945
This edition - The Centennial Edition
Penguin Books, 2002
181 pages
John Steinbeck's work really needs no introduction. As the writer of the most renowned examples of the rise and fall of the American Dream, his stories are both well-known and (often) very carefully ignored by many. He's the kind of writer one gets forced to read in high school and then abandon because the learning is finished.

The beauty and irony of that idea is that Steinbeck didn't stop learning. He worked up an interest in marine biology after The Grapes of Wrath was published, and he sought out ways to learn a great deal. Many modern writers get so focused on the writing deadlines and the press junkets, that they never find time to learn anything new. And if they do it's because they brought in a specialist to tell them why the science works the way the story needs it to work, etc. But it's very rare to find a modern author who writes what they know, or what they themselves have experienced. That type of writing seems limited to the ghostwriters of memoirs on the sale table at Barnes and Noble. No one goes on adventures anymore.

Steinbeck's desire to learn brought him into the path of Ed Ricketts (on whom Doc is based) who taught and adventured and collaborated with Steinbeck, and whose character is the heart of Cannery Row. The book is almost less like a novel and more like a magnifying glass on a real place in a real time. On the outside, the novel is about a rusty little fishing town. But inside, as Steinbeck put it, it's "a tide pool teeming with life after the ocean of commerce recedes."Unlike The Grapes of WrathCannery Row takes place in one petri dish, one tide pool, bleached by the sun and stinking like the sea. It's the kind of place you might pity someone for living in. But if Steinbeck's writing has ever proved anything, it's that those whom we pity most often have the richest and most colorful lives.

This novel is about innocence where it crosses paths with ignorance, and the danger at that intersection. It's ecofiction on a scope that boggles the mind. You don't need a plot to make a good story - not when you have characters like these. You don't need a clear beginning and a clear end, you just need beautifully-detailed people whose habits and mannerisms will stick with you beyond the novel - as if you're recalling a memory of a person you actually know rather than someone who may or may not have been dreamt up.

And maybe that's what has always drawn me to Steinbeck - the way the characters sort of float along with you like grimy fairytales, until you stop believing in that sort of thing, and then you're left with the grit that calls on the American spirit to keep adventuring and, more importantly, keep living - even when, maybe, all you have to call your own is a set of curtains on the rusted out boiler tank you call home.


Top Ten Tuesday: the top ten authors represented in my collection

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: 
Ten Authors I Own The Most Books Of 
(or, if we're being grammatically correct: 
Top Ten Authors Represented in My Collection)

I have more than 300 books in my personal collection, about 75 (or 25%) of which have not yet been read. My TBR pile is two shelves deep and growing. I'm a mess. So I'm using LibraryThing.com to pull this information. 

1. Jane Austen (14)

Yes, I know what you're going to say: she only wrote 6 books! WTF?? Slow down, grasshopper. First of all, she did more than just write 6 novels. Second of all, in some cases I have multiple editions of one novel because that's the kind of crazy person I am. Thirdly, because she's officially listed as an author, LibraryThing is counting Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters as Austen books. 

In case anyone's counting, there are two different editions of Emma, three different editions of Persuasion, four different editions of Pride & Prejudice (including the Marvel graphic ed. and the Zombies version, and then two editions of Sense & Sensibility (one of which is the Sea Monsters version). 
The other items are her Letters, one single edition of Mansfield Park, and a bound version of Abbey that includes Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon as well. 

2. Brian Jacques (9)

I own the first 9 books in the Redwall series (by publication, not by chronology). I'm still missing (and will look forward to at Christmas....): The Long Patrol, Marlfox, The Legend of Luke, Lord Brocktree, Taggerung, Triss, Loamhedge, Rakkety Tam, High Rhulain, Eulalia!, Doomwyte, The Sable Quean, and The Rogue Crew

3. Stephanie Barron (9)

These are the "Being a Jane Austen Mystery" books. I have #'s 1-7, 9, and 11. I'm still without a copy of (#8) Jane and His Lordship's Legacy, (#10) Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron and (#12) Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas

4. Charlotte Brontë (8)

Again, I know what you're thinking - but she wasn't that prolific! Actually, five of these titles are from her juvenilia, published by Hesperus. 

If anyone wants to purchase a copy of The Professor for me, I'd be much obliged. 

5. C. S. Lewis (7)

The Chronic--what!--cles of Narnia

6. Ian McEwan (7)

Aesthetically, I'm upset that my copy of Atonement does not have the same cover concept as the other books, but I'm enjoying that, in the order they're in above, there's a through line of title placement. My inner aesthete is happy. I just finished On Chesil Beach a few weeks ago, but that was a library copy. I also have, sitting on my desk, library copies of Solar and Sweet Tooth. On my wish list are First Love, Last Rites; The Comfort of Strangers; The Child in Time; Black Dogs; Saturday; and The Children Act

7. Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson (combined total of 10)

I can't really include one of these without the other, so they've been slapped together here. Since five of the books are joint ventures, it works out to eight Pearson books and seven Barry books: two comedic works, the first three books from the Kingdom Keepers series, and the five Starcatcher books.

8. Alexandre Dumas (6)

This is pretty self-explanatory. I'm just glad that the D'Artagnan romances have been split up as they are. The last three (Vicomte, Louise, and Mask) were originally one volume (no, thank you). 

9. William Shakespeare (5)

The only reason he's edging out Lillian Hellman is that my Hellman collection consists of two books - a standalone actors' version of The Children's Hour, and a copy of The Complete Plays which takes care of the rest...

All of these editions are pretty old. The first one on the left is a 1931 edition of Hamlet which we found among my grandmother's belongings. The others all came from my office's "lending" library (read: dumping ground) and include a 1959 ed. of The Tempest, a 1963 ed. of Macbeth, a 1967 ed. of King Lear, and that 1966 ed. of Othello which seems to be a bit of a find - I dug around the interwebs for an image of the cover you see there, but could only find one (on Amazon, not in a Google search). 

10. Jack Kerouac (5)

So all-in-all the 10 most-represented authors on my selves account for about 25% of the books on my shelves. According to LibraryThing, there's one author with four books, another five with three books, and then about nineteen with two, accounting for another 18% of my library. That means that more than 50% of the books on my shelves are by individual authors. I can't decide whether that's cool (as in hey, I must like a wide variety!?) or if that's disappointing (as in oh, my curatorial skills suck). I have to think about this. 


Top Ten Tuesday: 10 characters I'd want with me on a deserted island

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top Ten Characters I Would Want With Me On A Deserted Island 
(pick based on however you want...skills they would bring, their company...or pure hotness factor :P)

1. The entire family from Swiss Family Robinson (which, btw, not their name).

2. Captain Wentworth...because firstly, I needed an Austen guy in here somewhere and secondly, he's handy with the ocean and stuff. 

3. The Woodsman (The Book of Lost Things) and if he's not available, I'll take the Huntress. But she needs to understand boundaries - no animal/human head swapping!

4. Matt Hooper (Jaws) for obvious reasons.

5. Lennie (Of Mice and Men) because he's handy. Maybe a little too handy, but we'll address that later. 

6. Edmond Dantès (The Count of Monte Cristo) another handy guy to have around. He's good at escaping stuff, right? 

7 & 8. Hawkeye Pierce and Hot Lips Houlihan (MASH) more obvious. 

9. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter) hopefully with her handy dandy bag full of a steamer ship and food. 

10. The Mariner (Waterworld) OK maybe this one doesn't completely count because the book (which I read) was based on the screenplay, but he's got GILLS and he's Kevin Costner. Soooooooooooo obviously he's coming with, the end. 
Your argument is invalid. Good day. 

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