Monday, September 26, 2011

My books in August

September is almost gone and I still owe you the August posting about the books I read. It will be the last Steinbeck posting for a while since I am taking a little break my extended Steinbeck reading. I am just not sure how long this break will really be since I already miss it, but I have an endless list of other stuff I want to read and will give that a go for now.

John Steinbeck - The Red Pony


Most of what I have to say about "The Red Pony" I already wrote already in my blog posting right after the Steinbeck Festival, where you find some very personal notes about the connection between me and this book.

When I bought the original English version in Salinas I logically had to sit down to (re-)read it over 30 years after my first encounter with the book. And of course over three decades of lived life change the perspective a lot.

When I was a little horse-loving-girl every page that was not about horses was just endured with a low level of patience. Today on the other hand the two short stories that were NOT about the horses, but about the old Paisano that came to the grounds of his childhood to close the circle of life and the one about the grandfather lost in his memories about the track west that found his end reaching the Pacific shore, were my favorites.

It's not that I do not like stories about horses anymore - I still do. I'am just having my fights sometimes with Steinbeck and his deep dive into depression. I mean ... it is okay that the red pony dies - it is the lesson of life as painful as it is. But does it really, really have to go all wrong a second time?

But all together "The Red Pony" is a small book with a lot of wisdom in it and the full joy of Steinbeck's writing and the captured in words beauty of "Steinbeck Country" and damn ... I am missing it.

A.L. "Scrap" Lundy - Real Life on Cannery Row


That's the 2nd book I bought in Salinas and it's lovely. With lots of passion for the detail Scrap Lundy introduces the real people behind the Steinbeck characters. It's not just Doc who is based on Steinbeck's friend Ed Ricketts. You also get to meet for example Harold "Gabe" Bicknell who's life and character Steinbeck "used" to create Mack as well as Gay - a fact Bicknell was totally aware of. He even signed a copy of "Cannery Row" once with Harold "Gay" Bicknell

For almost every character, more or less all locations and lots of the events (but by far not all of them) Lundy documents the real life equivalents. I found even a small chapter of one of my favorite secondary characters - the old Chinaman:

"There was an older Chinese man whose shoes flapped when he walked along Cannery Row. Dottie Bicknell Sanchez (Comment: Gabe's daughter and one of Lundy's most important eye witnesses) recalled that she "heard the Chinese man walking and he made a flap-flap sound like a sole or heel was loose on his shoes.  ... My dad knew the Chinese man and once, when I was sick, the Chinese man brought some Chinese herbs that my mother made into tea that made me well. He walked to the beach and we never saw him again."

Breaking it down the "recipe" for "Cannery Row" was like 3/2 reality 1/3 imagination and for "Sweet Thursday" maybe 50:50 mostly because some key events in Steinbeck's nostalgic 2nd visit at the row never happened that way. 

The historian in me loves to track down the 2/3 or 1/2 pieces of reality, to look at the pictures with the real faces, learn about the background stories and to understand the historical context. It's also important for understanding Steinbeck's way of writing because he so often teared down the walls between fiction and non fiction.

But how about the reader in me?
Michael K. Hemp of the Cannery Row Foundation writes: "The simple truth is that John Steinbeck didn't write much pure fiction. Real people and real places come alive in his Monterey works ... ." 

That is absolutely true, but looking at it just as the story telling loving reader it's the literary stardust Steinbeck sprinkles over the reality on Cannery Row that makes it magic and I absolutely adore it. 

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