Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Of Mice & Men / Cannery Row



Of Mice and Men (1937) and Cannery Row (1945). Author : John Steinbeck. 306 Pages (OM&M - 107 pgs; CR - 195 pgs). Genre : American Literature. Overall Rating : A.

This "twofer" book was published by Penguin Books in 1986. It's a nice pairing. Both stories are set in the same place (Northern California), the same time-period (1930's), and have the same theme - a bunch of "less fortunates" and the ruts they're stuck in. But the stories also nicely contrast each other. OM&M is a darker, tragic study of the hopelessness of trying to escape that rut. CR is a lighter, comedic study of a group of people who don't regard their situation as a rut at all.

What's To Like...

The storylines are good, all the characters are engaging (even the bad guys), and there's quite a bit of character development in these relatively short tales. Steinbeck's literary description of California in the 1930's is masterful. Both stories are the proper length. These would suck if they were 500 pages long.

What's Not To Like...

Not much, since I give this an "A". There is some cussing that might offend the faint-of-heart. That's not a problem for me, but it grates my soul when Steinbeck uses the ...ahem... N-word. I know it was commonly used in the 1930's, and I am dead-set against censorship, but I can't help it. That word offends me. Can't we just replace it with "black" in stories like these?

Oh, and I got quite excited when I found that someone was selling this book for $190 on eBay, since I had picked it up for $2. Visions of untold wealth danced in my head. Alas, that $190 asking-price had the curious acronym PHP after it. It turns out that stands for "Philippines Pesos", and the PHP:USD exchange rate is about 41:1. Easy come, easy go.

Is the phrase "American Literature" an oxymoron?

Being a biblioholic means reading a lot of "C-to-B-minus" books. After a while, one's expectations get lowered. Anything that rises a smidgen above humdrum is cause for a minor celebration. Furthermore, I'm not a big fan of any American Lit BV (before Vonnegut). So this book was a pleasant and unexpected treat. I don't know that I'm prepared to tackle Steinbeck's longer stuff (Tortilla Flat, The Grapes of Wrath), but I may have to give some of his other less-than-250-pages books a try.

13 comments:

Jason Gignac said...

Oh, no, no! Don't turn your back on Grapes of Wrath! IF you like Steinbeck... oh, please don't turn your back on Grapes of Wrath! Amanda's book club read it a few months back, so there are several reviews for it on here - it's one of her favorites now, I believe. I read it in late high school, and had a violent relationship with it for years before I learned to treat it well and accept what it was telling me. Grapes of Wrath is one of the reasons America was born, as far as I'm concerned, so that this book could be published.

Nothing pre Kurt? Really? Nothing at all? Does that include poetry? Maybe Mr. V is so good that he turns you off of the rest of America. I've never read him. But really, NOTHING? At all? Wow...

Amber said...

Thanks for a great review. I like your "What's to Like," "What's Not to Like" format.
Just curious, what would you consider a "B" or "C" book?
I would expect John Steinbeck to make the A-list as he's one-of-the-masters. What are your criteria?
I have a rant over at my blog about genre fiction - romance novels, mysteries, etc. trash. I tend to rule those out as a group as D's or F's.
I'm a bit of a literature snob, and I'm interested in other people's gradeing criteria to see if I'm not the only one.

Amanda said...

1) Terry, I counted this review as two books in your count.
2) The Grapes of Wrath was wonderful. I thought I was going to hate it, and I loved every moment of it. It's one of my all-time favorites, and I went into it kicking and screaming. Almost didn't put it on the list for my book club's reading this year.
3) There's actually only one review of Grapes of Wrath here on 5-Squared, Jen's review. Mine was up before we started 5-Squared so it's on my personal blog.
4) I've read Of Mice and Men and didn't like it anywhere near as much as Grapes of Wrath, but I haven't read any other Steinbeck. I plan to. I've got high expectations.

hamilcar barca said...

1.) Jason - okay, there is one exception - Edgar Allan Poe. But I've given him honorary British citizenship, so that i don't have to count him as American Lit. other than that, in both poetry and novels, ...hmmm...

however, since you and Amanda and Jen are of one mind on Grapes of Wrath, i'll probably make it my next Steinbeck book. the opinions expressed at 5-squared count for a lot.

2.) Amber - the rating is entirely subjective. was it "meh, just a book"? then it's B-/C. if i couldn't put it down, that's A/B. if the only reason i finished it was cuz i'm OCD, that's a C-/D.

i looked on your blog, but couldn't find the rant. i too like to compare rating systems. especially when the ratings/opinions are quite different from mine.

3.) Amanda - i thought about writing them up in 2 reviews, but finally decided "a book's a book". but if this had been a pair of 500-page opuses (opi? opa? what's the plural? is it Latin? sure sounds like it.) glued together, its quite likely i would've called it two books.

Amanda said...

Well, I figured that since these often come as separate books, I'd just count them separately. I just made it a 9/10 entry on your book list.

Jen said...

Definitely read Grapes of Wrath. I count it among the most important works of literature I've ever read. Amazing.

Trixie said...

I read Travels with Charley when I was in high school. It is a travelogue about Steinbeck's trip throughout the US with his standard poodle Charley. What I just learned on Wikipedia is that TWC was written near the end of Steinbeck's life when he decided he needed to see the country one last time. Apparently he was dying of heart disease.
The book details the various parts of the country he visits and I will specifically mention only the part where Wiki says he "made his way through the state of Texas, which he came to dread. Steinbeck felt that "people either passionately love or passionately hate Texas," referring to people who are just passersby like himself."
(As a side note, I would put a link to Wiki here, but I have not been able to figure out how to put a hotlink in the comments - can anyone help?)
I'm not specifically pitching this book. I just wanted to say that I remember liking Steinbeck's writing style.
For some reason, I don't think I read any other Steinbeck though. Will have to now though.

Trixie said...

And on another note about Texas:(pardon my lack of geography knowledge)
Are you guys ok in regards to the impending hurricaine? Do you have to evacuate?

Amanda said...

Those of us in San Antonio are fine - it looks like a strong possibility that we won't get any rain at all, which is too bad, because we need it. Don't know about Byron, who's closer to the coast - actually Byron I was wondering what was going on with you guys with the hurricane earlier today. I hope you're all well.

Trixie, I agree with the comment that people either love or hate Texas. There doesn't really seem to be an in between here. Not sure if that holds true for visitors but for residents, sure.

Booger said...

These are two good books. I liked them both. Cannery Row is more light-hearted. It made me want to write a paper about Symptoms Resembling Epilepsy in Certain Gastropodus Mollusks. I loved the pickup baseball game where Doc discovers that one of the denizens of the Row is a formed major leaguer who left his career and became a hermit after a devastating diamond disaster.

Amanda said...

btw, I feel the same way about the 6-letter F word as you mention here about the N word. I don't agree with censoring either, but it's tough to read/hear.

Jason Gignac said...

Well, I don't think you guys would necessarily disagree with this, but just in defense of Steinbeck, I think he MEANT the word to be difficult to read, more than almost any other writer of his day.

Trixie said...

Oh yes, I think you are right Jason. In a scene when he was traveling through the south in Travels with Charley, he put on blackface just to see what it was like. Here was a man who deeply wanted to understand other people.