Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mr. John Steinbeck

Today is the birthday of Mr. John Steinbeck. My first Steinbeck book, The Red Pony, was assigned in a junior high class. The scene describing the dying horse was so vivid and shocking. During high school, I read East of Eden. It was pretty overwhelming to my tender, inexperienced high school mind. Later, my roommate in college, a native of Seaside, introduced me to the delights of the Monterey Bay landscape. We once made a summertime trip to pre-aquarium Cannery Row. It was quiet and a little bit dusty, not the crazy tourist trap that it is today. The canneries were rusted shut. Some were completely falling apart, and it seemed like a very authentic place. We also hiked around Point Lobos. I remember sitting on the sand, being hypnotized by a blue cove. There was no one else on the beach. It was so very quiet and clear. I knew that Doc Ricketts had probably climbed across the rocks before me, to collect samples.

For me, the landscape is so much a part of Steinbeck's work. I remember an acquaintance in college disparaging Steinbeck, by saying that he could spend an entire chapter describing a damn dirt clod. I think that this acquaintance was maybe referring to the first chapter of East of Eden. The landscape is crucial: it is the SETTING. It almost always functions as another character in each novel. Each time I drive down the peninsula, I think, "Ahhhhh, this is Steinbeck Country." There is a stretch of road from Castroville to Salinas, along the railroad tracks, that never fails to make me think of Adam Trask. Watsonville, the city where I live, was the setting of In Dubious Battle. Traveling in the Monterey Bay Area, is like visiting Thomas Hardy Country in England. The Steinbeck novels and the land are inextricably linked.

It's difficult to pick a favorite book, but I am especially fond of The Pastures of Heaven. It is a collection of short stories about an assortment of different characters, all living in the same community. One family's behavior profoundly affects all of the other characters. Yet, they are oblivious. Another favorite, is the short essay, "About Ed Ricketts". I recently downloaded East of Eden, so that I can listen to it during my commute to work. It's the perfect soundtrack for driving through the forest and the rolling hills of Mount Madonna and Day Road.

Happy Birthday to you, John Steinbeck. And, thank you for charging where I live with history and with complicated characters...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.