Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sweet Thursday

Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday takes us back to Cannery Row after the war. He carries on with the same characters, but they, and the town, have been changed by the war. They're not quite the folks we've met before. But because of the way Steinbeck has written the two novels, and perhaps didn't initially intend for Cannery Row to have a sequel, Sweet Thursday  can still easily stand on it's own as a completely independent novel. 

Following the theme of Cannery Row,  the boys are trying to help Doc, this time, by marrying him off! It's easy to slip back into Steinbeck's world and really feel for his characters. He writes in such a real way; he's almost poetic and philosophical in his simplicity. It's amazing. I really liked Sweet Thursday, as I like everything I've read of Steinbeck so far. If you haven't delved into Steinbeck yet, it's about time you pick something up! Read on! 

Fun Fact: The novel was adapted into the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical Pipe Dream, which was nominated for nine Tony Awards. The movie version of the book's predecessor, Cannery Row, incorporates several of the story lines in Sweet Thursday

Friday, August 10, 2012

Alias Grace

I absolutely, 100% loooved this book!

Alias Grace is based on the true story of Grace Marks with a fictional narrative. In 1842, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery were murdered. Grace Marks and James McDermott, servants of Kinnear, were convicted of the murder. Despite all this, Grace believes herself to be innocent. She doesn't remember the murder. And this novel reveals how, exactly, this came to be and how the murders were committed, as Grace tells her story, her memories, to psychiatrist Dr Jordan. [Not for reals, though, ya'll. This is a work of FICTION] Like Grace's quilt, her story has a pattern which slowly reveals itself to the reader.  It's a great book. Go check it out from your library. You'll love it. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Blind Assassin

"A fist is worth more than the sum of its fingers"

Set in present day Canada, we read the story of sisters Iris and Laura in flashbacks working their way to the present. It definitely resounds as a Margaret Atwood novel, but it mostly reminded my of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.  It's a story within a story, not only of the present and finding the secrets of the past, but another story, of science fiction that resembles reality. There is, as always, a gradual revelation to the truth. 

I found The Blind Assassin to be rather captivating, and while I could put it down, it took some persuasion. It's a puzzle of a novel, and I highly recommend it!

Cannery Row

Alrighty, folks, we are back to Steinbeck. This time he takes us to Monterey, California during the Great Depression. We meet the scientist, Doc, the owner of The Bear Flag Restaurant [the local whorehouse], Dora, and the grocer, Lee Chong, as well as their crazy friends. Doc, Dora, and Lee Chong aren't so much the main characters so much as the important people in town as the people in charge. They're the dominant characters even  though they don't get much screen time. [Page Time?] The gang of crazy friends is what makes the book worth reading. The gang keeps trying, and failing, to do something nice  for Doc, who has never been anything but nice and helpful to them. All the characters in this novel work together and show the friendship of folks living in a small town. The whole of Cannery Row comes to life. The novel just feels so natural, not forced or fake at all. The people are real and I want to meet them!

The thing I like most about Steinbeck and his work is that his characters are so real and relateable to me as a reader. Cannery Row is no exception, and one of his better works in my opinion. I really liked it. And, apparently, he revisits these characters in Sweet Thursday, which I look forward to reading. Steinbeck writes about regular people, which brings a whole new dimension of enjoyability to his novels. I highly recommend reading his works, especially this one. It's worth the read!  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Pearl

"It is not good to want a thing too much. It sometimes drives the luck away.
You must want it just enough, and be very tactful with God, or the gods."

John Steinbeck's The Pearl is based on an Indian Folk tale and explores the nature of man as well as delving into the topic of race. He shows us the importance of community and even songs. And he shows us how something made for good can lead to your destruction, how good intentions can turn to greed. It's really a beautiful story [as well as a quick read at under 100 pages!] and I highly recommend it! 

Travels with Charley: In Search of America

"A journey is a person itself; no two are alike"

I promised you Steinbeck, so here we go! 

Right off the bat, I knew I would like the tale of Steinbeck's journey across America.
The old owner wrote: "We see things as we are, not as they are."
Truth. Beauty. Steinbeck. 

Steinbeck drove across the country [starting in the north-east] because he "needed to discover all of America." He got himself a travel truck and named it Rocinante after Don Quixote's horse, which implies Steinbeck likens himself to Quixote. He is to travel alone with only the company of his poodle, Charley. He even left his wife at home, with only a mild break, from both his travels and his loneliness, in Chicago when the wife flew out.

Steinbeck had some really interesting insights in America. He writes: "Yellow Stone National Park is no more representative of America than is Disneyland." I can't say that I agree with Steinbeck's assessment that they are not representative of America, because I think that they both are representative of America and it's people, especially of tourism and travel, but also the things we as Americans like. 

Steinbeck also feels that American's have no roots. This is because we are descended from people without roots. The very people who founded America left because they didn't have roots, and so we are a rootless people. Those with roots stayed where they were. I'm not sure how I feel about this assessment, though he makes a good argument for his position. 

On his way back home, Steinbeck first travels through the South. Now, remember, this was 1960, so he encountered some unique perspectives on race, from both directions. In order to see these perspectives, he never revealed what exactly he thought. 

The end of his journey kind of fizzled out, and the book definitely reflected this of Steinbeck. It was just like he ran out of gas. He was tired. He was ready to go home. There was no real conclusion. It was just a journal of his experiences and loose interviews as he journeyed across this "New America" which did not live up to his expectations. This may be, at least in part, because of Steinbeck's age and heart condition. Thom Steinbeck, John's son, gives that as the reason for the trip in the first place. John wanted to see his country one last time, and Thom was a little surprised that the wife let John go on the trip alone because of his condition. Thom says he could have died at any time. This heart condition would have definitely come into play in Steinbeck's growing tired and wanting to come home.

Now, many folks find Travels with Charley to be a work of fiction, and maybe it is. Or maybe, in my opinion, Steinbeck is recounting his experiences, his truth. Maybe it didn't happen exactly as he said it did. Maybe he was an old man waxing sentimental about the country he loves. But we must take all memoirs or personal tales with a grain of salt! And this was a fairly enjoyable one, with just a titch of dry parts. So, you know, a regular memoir. I jest. But I do recommend this book if you love memoirs, Steinbeck, or America. 
Read on, my friends.