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Group reads > Cannery Row (spoilers)

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message 1: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck by Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.

In my youth I discovered Steinbeck. I have many favorites, the first being Of Mice and Men because I saw the old Burgess Meredith/Lon Chaney Jr film on TV after school one day - then I read the book - it was the first "adult" book I'd read and it brought me to In Dubious Battle, The Grapes of Wrath, The Long Valley (which features The Red Pony), The Pastures of Heaven, Tortilla Flat, East of Eden, Travels with Charley: In Search of America and The Winter of Our Discontent (and there were others). My sister was born in Salinas...and being young I liked to read book about California (I loved Jack London). I think reading all this Steinbeck and Jack London and Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair shaped my political thinking because I'm not a liberal - I'm a Christian Socialist. Now I've another confession to make: Cannery Row is one of Steinbeck's books I like least. So, let the discussion begin and let us know what you liked or didn't like about this book.


message 2: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) I've got my copy and will be starting in the next couple of days. I'm looking forward to this one, as other than reading Of Mice and Men way back in high school, I've never read any other Steinbeck. (*chagrin*)


message 3: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments Ivan wrote: "Cannery Row by John Steinbeck by Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.

In my youth I discovered Steinbeck. I have many favorites, the first being Of Mice and Men because I saw the old Burgess Meredith..."


I've read all but a couple that you mentioned, plus a couple you didn't. Of Mice and Men is a favorite for me too. I reread it recently. Both of the movies of it are well done.

I downloaded an ebook of Cannery Row from my library this morning. Looking forward to the read and the discussion. I've never read any Steinbeck that wasn't good.


message 4: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Wonderful opening line:

"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream."


message 5: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Steinbeck is one of about 15-20 authors I continue to pick up from time to time - because he is so talented. It was so long ago that I read Cannery Row, I'll refrain from opinion at this point because I plan on quickly rereading it.However, I will say that it's not the best place to start, so if you read it and are not impressed, I suggest you immediately immerse yourself in Of Mice and Men or Grapes of Wrath. In my mind these are part of the quintessential American canon.

The last Steinbeck I read was East od Eden last summer. It is a long and morally and emotionally draining book and also a masterpiece, but again, not the place to start.


message 6: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) I agree, Mmars--for me, Of Mice and Men is the place to start. I loved teaching the book, but it was dropped from our curriculum as time passed. I have to admit that the nearly all male group of characters limited the ability of the high school girls to find someone with whom to identify.

I found this comment: "The only female character in the story, Curley’s wife, is never given a name and is only mentioned in reference to her husband. The men on the farm refer to her as a “tramp,” a “tart,” and a “looloo.” Dressed in fancy, feathered red shoes, she represents the temptation of female sexuality in a male-dominated world. Steinbeck depicts Curley’s wife not as a villain, but rather as a victim. Like the ranch-hands, she is desperately lonely and has broken dreams of a better life."

I love Lennie and George, but I was glad to see the shift in 10th grade to Beloved and in 9th grade to To Kill a Mockingbird.


message 7: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Julia wrote: "I agree, Mmars--for me, Of Mice and Men is the place to start. I loved teaching the book, but it was dropped from our curriculum as time passed. I have to admit that the nearly all male group of ch..."

I saw on Huffington Post that one of the "little brains" down in Alabama is trying to get Morrison's The Bluest Eye banned from High School curriculum. Will it never end?


message 8: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Sigh, nope! The last week of September is Banned Books Week. I'm working on a display for our library, and here's the American Library Association (ALA) website information about it: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooks...

The poster for this year, plus other merchandise, can be found at http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.as...

It's incredible to read the list of banned and "frequently challenged" books.


message 9: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments I believe I was in my upper teens when I read Of Mice and Men and it was probably 10 years later I heard of the banning of mice/men. I wracked my brain to remember what was offensive and came up with nothing. So much for impressionable youth! But, when I read Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown at the ripe old age of 21 my whole understanding of sexuality was put through a wringer. It didn't take long however to decide I was not attracted to anyone of the same sex. Ever since though, I get truly get it that other people may be.

And no, banning books will never end as long as fear of the unknown exists.


message 10: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Mmars wrote: "I believe I was in my upper teens when I read Of Mice and Men and it was probably 10 years later I heard of the banning of mice/men. I wracked my brain to remember what was offensive and came up wi..."

Rubyfruit Jungle - I loved that book. It's one of those life affirming books that we gay people hold dear - not unlike Tales of the City. Most of the gay literature that was out when I was coming to accept my sexuality was tragic in nature.

If I recall correctly the "N" word is used in Of Mice and Men which gets it banned instead of it opening a dialogue.

Julia - thanks for putting up the web addresses for banned book week. May have to buy some bookmarks.


message 11: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Yes, I think that was it, Ivan. The N word.


message 12: by Silver (new)

Silver Julia wrote: "I agree, Mmars--for me, Of Mice and Men is the place to start. I loved teaching the book, but it was dropped from our curriculum as time passed. I have to admit that the nearly all male group of ch..."

I find that ironic, becasue for me reading Of Mice and Men had me convinved that I did not like Steinbeck at all. I had to read of Mice and Men twice, and equally disliked it both times.

But I convinved myself to try reading him again after that and I have to say that I have enjoyed the other works I have read by him though honestly he still is not among my favorite writers. His writing does at times annoy me.

Grapes of Wrath was the secound book I read by him, and the thing I remember most about that book is that it took him like 20 pages to describe a turtle crossing the road.

In spite of my trepidations feelings about him, I get compelled to revisit him now and then. I have been curious to read this one in part because I am quite familiar with the Cannery Row area and I find this particular area of history interesting.

I have just started reading, but so far I am enjoying it.


message 13: by Mmars (new)

Mmars | 588 comments Funny...I don't remember the turtle. (I know, I know...) G of W is a long book and it helped reading on a week's vacation by a lake. I'm also a sucker for historical fiction of the American prairie/west.


message 14: by Julia (last edited Sep 03, 2013 05:09AM) (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) We used to teach JUST the chapter on the turtle in literature classes! The Grapes of Wrath can be read for free online at http://libcom.org/files/grapes%20of%2... The book has not stood the test of time like some others, and I agree that Steinbeck is not one of my favorites. However, every once in awhile he can come up with descriptions that knock my proverbial socks off! "The Turtle" is one of those--maybe, to me, the turtle is more a metaphor of nature's struggle to keep going in the face of human encroachment--but I know that's putting my own spin on the story.

Part of it that is often missed is that he actually "plants" the three wild oat seeds--so that even when the truck driver has swerved to HIT him (rather than the woman who swerved to miss him), he keeps going--and so does life.

Here is the whole of chapter 3 on "The Turtle"; we used it to teach students how a microcosm of the world could reflect the macrocosm (the "never give up" attitude of the Oakies).

"THE CONCRETE HIGHWAY was edged with a mat of tangled, broken, dry grass, and the grass heads were heavy with oat beards to catch on a dog's coat, and foxtails to tangle in a horse's fetlocks, and clover burrs to fasten in sheep's wool; sleeping life waiting to be spread and dispersed, every seed armed with an appliance of dispersal, twisting darts and parachutes for the wind, little spears and balls of tiny thorns, and all waiting for animals and for the wind, for a man's trouser cuff or the hem of a woman's skirt, all passive but armed with appliances of activity, still, but each possessed of the anlage of movement.

The sun lay on the grass and warmed it, and in the shade under the grass the insects moved, ants and ant lions to set traps for them, grasshoppers to jump into the air and flick their yellow wings for a second, sow bugs like little armadillos, plodding restlessly on many tender feet. And over the grass at the roadside a land turtle crawled, turning aside for nothing, dragging his high-domed shell over the grass: His hard legs and yellow-nailed feet threshed slowly through the grass, not really walking, but boosting and dragging his shell along. The barley beards slid off his shell, and the clover burrs fell on him and rolled to the ground. His horny beak was partly open, and his fierce, humorous eyes, under brows like fingernails, stared straight ahead. He came over the grass leaving a beaten trail behind him, and the hill, which was the highway embankment, reared up ahead of him. For a moment he stopped, his head held high. He blinked and looked up and down. At last he started to climb the embankment. Front clawed feet reached forward but did not touch. The hind feet kicked his shell along, and it scraped on the grass, and on the gravel. As the embankment grew steeper and steeper, the more frantic were the efforts of the land turtle. Pushing hind legs strained and slipped, boosting the shell along, and the horny head protruded as far as the neck could stretch. Little by little the shell slid up the embankment until at last a parapet cut straight across its line of march, the shoulder of the road, a concrete wall four inches high. As though they worked independently the hind legs pushed the shell against the wall. The head upraised and peered over the wall to the broad smooth plain of cement. Now the hands, braced on top of the wall, strained and lifted, and the shell came slowly up and rested its front end on the wall. For a moment the turtle rested. A red ant ran into the shell, into the soft skin inside the shell, and suddenly head and legs snapped in, and the armored tail clamped in sideways. The red ant was crushed between body and legs. And one head of wild oats was clamped into the shell by a front leg. For a long moment the turtle lay still, and then the neck crept out and the old humorous frowning eyes looked about and the legs and tail came out. The back legs went to work, straining like elephant legs, and the shell tipped to an angle so that the front legs could not reach the level cement plain. But higher and higher the hind legs boosted it, until at last the center of balance was reached, the front tipped down, the front legs scratched at the pavement, and it was up. But the head of wild oats was held by its stem around the front legs.

Now the going was easy, and all the legs worked, and the shell boosted along, waggling from side to side. A sedan driven by a forty-year-old woman approached. She saw the turtle and swung to the right, off the highway, the wheels screamed and a cloud of dust boiled up. Two wheels lifted for a moment and then settled. The car skidded back onto the road, and went on, but more slowly. The turtle had jerked into its shell, but now it hurried on, for the highway was burning hot.

And now a light truck approached, and as it came near, the driver saw the turtle and swerved to hit it. His front wheel struck the edge of the shell, flipped the turtle like a tiddly-wink, spun it like a coin, and rolled it off the highway. The truck went back to its course along the right side. Lying on its back, the turtle was tight in its shell for a long time. But at last its legs waved in the air, reaching for something to pull it over. Its front foot caught a piece of quartz and little by little the shell pulled over and flopped upright. The wild oat head fell out and three of the spearhead seeds stuck in the ground. And as the turtle crawled on down the embankment, its shell dragged dirt over the seeds. The turtle entered a dust road and jerked itself along, drawing a wavy shallow trench in the dust with its shell. The old humorous eyes looked ahead, and the horny beak opened a little. His yellow toe nails slipped a fraction in the dust."

And here is a poem that must be what Steinbeck WANTED us to feel about the turtle:

"An Interruption"
by Robert S. Foote

A boy had stopped his car
To save a turtle in the road;
I was not far
Behind, and slowed,
And stopped to watch as he began
To shoo it off into the undergrowth—

This wild reminder of an ancient past,
Lumbering to some Late Triassic bog,
Till it was just a rustle in the grass,
Till it was gone.

I hope I told him with a look
As I passed by,
How I was glad he'd stopped me there,
And what I felt for both
Of them, something I took
To be a kind of love,
And of a troubled thought
I had, for man,
Of how we ought
To let life go on where
And when it can.


message 15: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments The turtle didn't make it into the movie.


message 16: by Silver (new)

Silver Buck wrote: "The turtle didn't make it into the movie."

Haha because it would have made the movie an hour longer (not that I have actually seen the movie myself)


message 17: by Julia (last edited Sep 01, 2013 07:01PM) (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Strange how the terrible sorrows of the past fade with generations--The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl is an excellent historical account of the heartbreaking era about which Steinbeck was writing.

I gave Egan's book away as part of World Book Night last year--so while Steinbeck's fictional account in The Grapes of Wrath may seem dated, the actual story is one we should never forget.

And of course the turtle, with his "old humorous eyes" wouldn't make the movie--metaphors never film well.

BTW, World Book Night is wonderful; if you're picked as a book giver, they send 20 copies to you free, to be given away free to people who are light or non-readers. You can check it out at http://www.us.worldbooknight.org/


message 19: by Julia (last edited Sep 05, 2013 05:23AM) (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) These are excellent, Silver--thanks so much. That last link really gets into how the sardine was overfished--and now "Cannery Row" houses tourist shops.

Sometimes, when we've moved far enough away in history from certain events, I can feel myself losing touch with what the reality of life had to be back then. The links you added are very humbling; Cannery Row is not only literature but social commentary, and that can be said of most of Steinbeck.

You've given me a new perspective with which to approach the book--thanks again.


message 20: by Silver (new)

Silver Julia wrote: "These are excellent, Silver--thanks so much. That last link really gets into how the sardine was overfished--and now "Cannery Row" houses tourist shops.

Sometimes, when we've moved far enough awa..."


I am glad I was able to offer some helpful insights. I can be a bit of a visual person at times. When I read I frequently will look stuff up online to see what the author or the characters are seeing, which can help give me a better understanding.

As well having visited the Cannery Row area many times I was curious to see Steinbeck's Cannery Row as it were.

I came across an interesting blog article by someone who talks about the changes made, and what Steinbeck himself would think if he could see how the area was transformed into such a tourist attraction now.

Though I also think it is interesting to see how some things are still so much the same in some ways.

I was quite intrigued by these two photos which I stumbled across, taken of the same location but in different times. Both different and yet still so much the same:

http://www.caviews.com/images/CR2.jpg

http://wpcontent.answcdn.com/wikipedi...

The black and white photo came from this website, which also has a lot of great old Cannery Row photos:

http://www.caviews.com/RowEd.html


message 21: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Silver wrote: "Julia wrote: "These are excellent, Silver--thanks so much. That last link really gets into how the sardine was overfished--and now "Cannery Row" houses tourist shops.

Sometimes, when we've moved ..."


Wow, these are nice. Really provide a nice sense of time and place. The last time I was in Monterey was maybe 22 years ago. It was gorgeous. The aquarium was a marvel. There was at least one very fine used book store. We drove across the state from Mariposa.


message 22: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
This quote is dead on:

“It has always seemed strange to me...The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

― John Steinbeck, "Cannery Row"


message 23: by Silver (new)

Silver I really enjoyed the chapter which dealt with Doc and Hazel and their collecting specimens at the tide pool.

It also made me curious if the Western Biological Lab was based upon a real place, so I looked it up and apparently it was based upon the Pacific Biological Lab which was located in Monterrey. And the character of Doc was based off Edward Ricketts who was a biologist who founded the lab, and for a period of time lived within the lab as well.

Also interesting the lab served as a gathering place for intellectuals among of whom Steinbeck was included.

Here is a photo of the lab I found:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia...


message 24: by Julia (last edited Sep 05, 2013 04:58AM) (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Thanks once again, Silver, for the great additions of these pictures. I found a bit more about Edward Ricketts, who must have been very special to Steinbeck.

"In 1930 Steinbeck met Ed Ricketts, an accomplished marine biologist who operated the Pacific Biological Laboratory at 800 Cannery Row. Ricketts was the inspiration for the character 'Doc' in Cannery Row, although he wasn't called Doc in real life. Ricketts brought Steinbeck along on his outdoor adventures studying the biological mysteries of the “Great Tidal Pool” near Asilomar Beach, and on a voyage to the Sea of Cortez.

In 1948 Ed Ricketts was hit by a train after his Buick stalled on the tracks near Cannery Row. Today, the location of the train accident is memorialized with a bust of Ricketts at the street corner adjacent to the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa."

http://www.canneryrow.com/john-steinb...



The statue of Ricketts is holding a starfish, and I just found a biography of Ricketts by Eric Enno Tamm. Beyond the Outer Shores: The Untold Odyssey of Ed Ricketts, the Pioneering Ecologist Who Inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell

You've added so much to my understanding of Cannery Row, Silver--both the book and the place. Thanks again.


message 25: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Ivan, that's a powerful quotation, and so very true as you say. I'm finding this book full of "quotables"; this is from the end of chapter 2:

"Our Father who art in nature, who has given the gift of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth, must have a great and overwhelming love for no-goods and blots-on-the-town and bums, and Mack and the boys. Virtues and graces and laziness and zest. Our Father who art in nature."

Steinbeck had such a love for the misfits, which I'm coming to realize (looking at Ivan's quote) is a rare quality. So many people would want to "do away with" rats and flies and moths and people like Mack--but Steinbeck sees they are all part of the world.


message 26: by Buck (last edited Sep 05, 2013 09:08AM) (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments I began reading three days ago and have only progressed to a little past halfway. The first chapter very much put me in mind of Tortilla Flat, Steinbeck's first successful book, published a decade earlier. A few other chapters involving "Mack and the boys" also seem to share a kindred spirit with Tortilla Flat.

I especially enjoyed some of the chapters that were interludes from the primary story at hand: the boy taunting the old Chinaman; the two soldiers out with their dates in the early morning.

Cannery Row reminds me why I like Steinbeck so much. His character descriptions are so magical, his writing so comfortable to read. Although no happy ending comes to mind from other Steinbeck books I've read previously, Cannery Row is certainly a wonderful example of his wry humor. Some passages made me so smile that I went back and read them again.

I'm really enjoying this so far and I'm only halfway through.


message 27: by Greg (new)

Greg | 48 comments I loved Cannery Row. I found this note this morning in 'A Writer's Notebook' by W. Somerset Maugham.

"Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more telling. To know that a thing actually happened gives it a poignancy, touches a chord, which a piece of acknowledged fiction misses. It is to touch this chord that some authors have done everything they could to give you the impression that they are telling the plain truth."

This is a factor in why Cannery Row is so vital, why the characters ring so true because Steinbeck drew on real people and place to craft his story.

Here's an interview with John Steinbeck.
http://www.theparisreview.org/intervi...


message 28: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Greg, thanks so much for the link. The writer of the article, Nathaniel Benchley, obviously had great respect for Steinbeck. At the beginning of the article he says:

"One time, at the behest of a son of mine at Exeter, he wrote a few paragraphs for the seventy-sixth anniversary edition of "The Exonian"; he called it “In Awe of Words,” and with the permission of the management I'll reproduce it here, because as usual he says these things better for himself."

And he goes on to give these words of Steinbeck's:

"A man who writes a story is forced to put into it the best of his knowledge and the best of his feeling. The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator. Of course, there are dishonest writers who go on for a little while, but not for long—not for long.

A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn't telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say—and to feel—

“Yes, that's the way it is, or at least that's the way I feel it. You're not as alone as you thought.”


message 29: by Greg (new)

Greg | 48 comments Julia wrote: "Greg, thanks so much for the link. The writer of the article, Nathaniel Benchley, obviously had great respect for Steinbeck. At the beginning of the article he says:

"One time, at the behest of a..."


Julia, that is just so wonderful. "We are lonesome animals" is an interesting point. Language is the only, the one thing that makes humans unique from any other critter on this planet. We could take this topic to another whole area of discussion, the vehicle that carries words, the alphabet. Anyone interested in typography, the history of calligraphy and most importantly the history of alphabets, that's a truly fascinating area to explore.


message 30: by Ivan (last edited Sep 05, 2013 06:37PM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Greg wrote: "Julia wrote: "Greg, thanks so much for the link. The writer of the article, Nathaniel Benchley, obviously had great respect for Steinbeck. At the beginning of the article he says:

"One time, at t..."


Not just language Greg. Only man feels shame (or needs to).


message 31: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Julia wrote: "Greg, thanks so much for the link. The writer of the article, Nathaniel Benchley, obviously had great respect for Steinbeck. At the beginning of the article he says:

"One time, at the behest of a..."


Sounds very much like:

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
― James Baldwin

and:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours”
― Alan Bennett, The History Boys

All three men expressed the same sentiment in their own way.


message 32: by Greg (new)

Greg | 48 comments Ivan wrote: "Julia wrote: "Greg, thanks so much for the link. The writer of the article, Nathaniel Benchley, obviously had great respect for Steinbeck. At the beginning of the article he says:

"One time, at t..."


“The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you.

And a thousand songwriters….

Ivan, isn't shame a feeling? Man hasn't ever reconciled the intellect with emotions. I think embarrassment is feared more than death.


message 33: by Greg (last edited Sep 06, 2013 04:35AM) (new)

Greg | 48 comments Ivan, to your reference about shame, relating shame to the quote from Cannery Row you posted earlier, (which I particularly also liked), about the things we admire in men and traits we detest that lead to success. If shame had any justifiable foundation for human ownership to uniqueness as a species, and therefor important, they'd have to get rid of many professions, celebrities and industries. We should start a list!
I think shame is a relative concept. It seems on reflection that shame is only a precious bourgeois affectation.


message 34: by Julia (last edited Sep 06, 2013 04:54AM) (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Hmmm, I think rather that shame is taught to humans--small children certainly have no sense of shame about their little bodies running around naked :-)

Shame, to me, is attached to guilt--and sadly, even great parents use "guilt trips" to instruct children. Certainly Greg has a point--shame is a relative concept, but I wouldn't call it an "affectation".

Rather, it's a cultural phenomenon, in which various societies throughout history and around the world decide their code of beliefs. Guilt comes from the breaking of that code, IF the code is accepted by the individual. (N.B., religions are experts at using guilt to control followers, imho.)

That's why I love Steinbeck's approach to prostitution in Cannery Row, and I wish Dora were a more developed character. When she has to close the Bear Flag for a week each year because the "high-minded" ladies of the town go after her, Steinbeck just says: "Everyone got a vacation and little repairs to the plumbing and walls could be made." We know which side he's on, and I don't think Dora feels shame or guilt, since she doesn't accept the women's code of belief.


message 35: by Ivan (last edited Sep 06, 2013 06:40AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
When I added my comment about shame being unique to human beings, this is the quote I was trying to remember:

"Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to."

- Mark Twain


This is the monologue from the play/movie "Nuts" (WARNING: it's adult material, but speaks to the question of prostitution):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ePdor...


message 36: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Great scene, Ivan--and really about a person's right to be themselves. Thanks.


message 37: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments I finished reading Cannery Row this afternoon. As usual with Steinbeck, it was a comfortable read. It was like listening to Garrison Keillor. It is the same sort of a book as Tortilla Flat, sort of, but better, more mature, more comfortable.

It seems to me that Steinbeck's books don't have happy endings. Cannery Row comes closest to having a happy ending of any of Steinbeck's books that I can think of. And it isn't as if Steinbeck wrapped up some great plot - it just came to a good place for an ending.

This thread has been so good so far, with thoughtful comments on so many things and photographs and history - and the actual discussion of Cannery Row has hardly even begun. What a great group I have joined! I am not so literarily(?) astute, so I'm looking forward to what others have to say about this good book.


message 38: by Greg (new)

Greg | 48 comments Julia wrote: "Hmmm, I think rather that shame is taught to humans--small children certainly have no sense of shame about their little bodies running around naked :-)

Shame, to me, is attached to guilt--and sadl..."


Shame and guilt are in the story in several situations, as Julia mentions about Dora, the 'respectable' women of the town try to close her down, it's water off a duck's back to Dora, who has a good heart. I agree also, I would've liked for Dora to be a more developed character. On that point, if I can digress, I was thinking that same thing while reading Brideshead Revisited recently. Anthony Blanche should have his own book!
Shame and guilt are here again when Mac and the boys, with the best of intentions throw a surprise party for Doc and it gets out of hand and they trash the place. Mac feels terrible shame afterwards (with good reason in this case).

Julia, I used the the word 'affectation' deliberately in a plural context which isn't the norm, the word is usually used in the singular at a person. I was aiming for a description, for which the subject of guilt and shame brings up strong feelings. It make me angry. When the worst traits of our nature masquerade behind a veneer of respectability using guilt and shame as weapons to manipulate to get what they want. I git riled.

There are many characters in here, what's with the old Chinaman walking through town at first light every morning?. That isn't explained. Henri the sculptor is a sort of strange guy,not part of the main story. Is he a metaphor of failure to commit to a partner or doing a project that is for a useful purpose?

I'm enjoying looking through 'The Log from the Sea of Cortez' again after so many years, after reading Cannery Row.


message 39: by Paul (new)

Paul Adkin (pauladkin) | 30 comments Very interesting the Lee Chong economy described in the first chapter. A kind of anti-capitalist capitalism. An economy that gets by without there seeming to be any money around at all. Very interesting.


message 40: by Paul (new)

Paul Adkin (pauladkin) | 30 comments "Our Father who art in nature" Steinbeck and Taoism: has anyone made the link before?


message 41: by Paul (new)

Paul Adkin (pauladkin) | 30 comments A good half of the girl's at Dora's whorehouse were Christian Scientists (p. 18): does that tell us more about whores or Christian scientists?


message 42: by Paul (new)

Paul Adkin (pauladkin) | 30 comments The vision the Chinaman makes Andy see (p.23), how strange. What does such a vision mean?


message 43: by Silver (new)

Silver Greg wrote: "There are many characters in here, what's with the old Chinaman walking through town at first light every morning?. That isn't explained. ."

I wondered if the Chinaman was meant to be God, it was certainly a very strange episode.


message 44: by Buck (new)

Buck (spectru) | 568 comments Silver wrote: "Greg wrote: "There are many characters in here, what's with the old Chinaman walking through town at first light every morning?. That isn't explained. ."

I wondered if the Chinaman was meant to be..."


There are several asides, little digressions. The chapter that tells the story of the flap-flapping 0ld Chinaman and the little boy is one of them. The story of the gopher is another. I don't know why Steinbeck included these little vignettes. They don't advance the story, what little story there is. But I did enjoy them. They are like an unexpected tasty side dish to a savory meal.


message 45: by Paul (new)

Paul Adkin (pauladkin) | 30 comments The Palace Flophouse: a deliciously anti-capitalist paradise; anti-system; where desire and pleasure is closely rooted in real necessity; what you need is probably out there in the rubbish tip, go and look for it and take it for free.


message 46: by Paul (new)

Paul Adkin (pauladkin) | 30 comments The Chinamen anecdotes are obviously rooted in Steinbeck's understanding and appreciation of Taoist philosophy.


message 47: by Paul (new)

Paul Adkin (pauladkin) | 30 comments The Chinamen anecdotes are at the heart of the book, as is Taoism.


message 48: by Paul (new)

Paul Adkin (pauladkin) | 30 comments "Our Father, who art in nature"


message 49: by Julia (last edited Sep 07, 2013 11:27AM) (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) I had caught that section as well, Paul--and I found this site, The Center for Steinbeck Studies, with an essay "Why Read John Steinbeck?" by Dr. Susan Shillinglaw:
http://as.sjsu.edu/steinbeck/works/in...

Shillinglaw says:

"At the 1997 Fourth International Steinbeck Congress held in San Jose and Monterey, Asian and other participants read papers that noted Steinbeck's affinity for Buddhist or Taoist ideals - acceptance of what is, not grappling for solutions."

Scholars have tied Taoism to Steinbeck; one example is the thesis proposal of Andrea Hammock called "We Should be Like Water, Choosing the Lowest Place Which All Others Avoid:John Steinbeck as a Modern Messenger of Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching"
http://english.csusb.edu/documents/ha...

The Moral Philosophy of John Steinbeck
"More than any other author of the Modern period of American literature, John Steinbeck evidenced a serious interest and background in moral philosophy. His personal reading collection included works ranging from Kant and Spinoza to Taoism and the Bible. Critics also consistently identify Steinbeck as an author whose work promotes serious moral reflection and whose characters undergo profound moral growth. Yet to date there has been no sustained examination of either John Steinbeck's personal moral philosophy or the ethical features and content of his major works. This critical neglect is remedied by a collection of highly readable essays exploring the philosophy and work of one of America's few Nobel Prize winning authors. These thirteen essays, written by experts both within philosophy and Steinbeck studies, examine almost all of Steinbeck's major works. Included in the compilation are five general essays examining Steinbeck's own moral philosophy and eight specific essays analyzing the ethics of various major works."


message 50: by Paul (new)

Paul Adkin (pauladkin) | 30 comments Thanks for those links and quotes Susan. This is the first Steinbeck I've ever read, and I'm no expert in Taoism, but the Taoism in this work seems pretty obvious to me. It gives the work a depth that is obviously perceived by readers even though they might not sure what it is. Perhaps it's the touch that lifts his work to "classic" standard.


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