Steinbeckathon 2012: Cannery Row
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"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. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses." - John Steinbeck, Cannery Row
This is the discussion thread for John Steinbeck's Cannery Row.
Spoilers are welcome, but please indicate them in your message out of
respect for those who are reading at a different pace. Enjoy!
Steinbeckathon main thread: http://www.librarything.com/topic/130105
At least they have The Grapes of Wrath in English.
(Btw. has anyone else noticed that something seems to be wrong with the touchstones lately? TGoW leads to a book by John Ford, owned by 69 members, not to the Steinbeck with 17,392 copies on LT. It's the same with North and South and even King Lear.)
I read this in high school when I was in love with Steinbeck. Tried to re-read it a couple of years ago because I'd heard he based it on the Arthurian legends. Couldn't get past the misogyny to read it all the way through. I'm going to lurk and see if I can find a way to approach it that doesn't make me want to scream and throw it across the room.
I just started this, and it's very good so far, although certainly male-oriented. Haven't run into misogyny yet, although it won't surprise me if Dora's harbors some.
I liked Of Mice and Men, then got turned off of him by East of Eden. (Which many people love). The Log of the Sea of Cortez restored my interest, and it has some links to this one.
ETA: I just ordered a copy of Cannery Row from Amazon so I'm planning to read it with you guys this month. Not sure how soon I'll start--probably next week sometime.
I had fun putting it all together Joe. Ever the designer at heart!
#9 Chelle, I bought that book online and got a good price for it, which made it worth it, especially since I would have had to purchase two books to complete the short novels collection I already have by him. You might want to look it up at ChaptersIndigo which is where I got it.
Looking forward to it.
>16 katiekrug:, katiekrug: as you recently stayed there, how about telling us your thoughts about it, both before and after you read the book.
I love Doc's music, I love the poetry Doc quotes, Mack and the boys are hilarious, Frankie's a heartbreaker, and on and on. And then you have wonderful silly stuff like beer milkshakes and frogs in the night. And always the sea nearby, with its wild abundance of life, and that life's frequent craftiness and casual viciousness in obtaining the next meal. Fantastic. Thanks, Ilana, for organizing this part of the Steinbeckathon. I'm really happy about finally having read this.
Thanks Ilana, Mark and Ellen for organizing this. I'm not sure I would have given Steinbeck another try if not for this focus on his work.
It is truly amazing what one can pick up about a classic story without ever having read the book. I knew a lot about Doc and his business of collecting wildlife. And I knew how the upstanding citizens of Monterey were scandalized when the book came out--they would have ridden Steinbeck out of town on a rail could they have caught him for depicting their town as such scummy low-life! But I had never actually read the book, and now, thanks to the Steinbeckathon, I have! I loved the meandering anecdotes, building a sense of a place and time without ever really having a plot, simply a depiction to savor and enjoy. And what language, really! Describing early morning at the beginning of Chapter 14 (and the whole paragraph is filled with images),
"Cats drip over the fences and slither like syrup over the ground to look for fish heads."
A great place to visit!
I loved the language of this book - especially when JS is writing about Nature. Loved the hunting frogs part and all the bits about the ocean (and I don't even like the ocean very much).
It may be that he writes equally beautifully about his people, but it is hard for me to get past the fact that I don't like his people very well. He seems to love these people for their flaws and I have to wonder if he has issues with the part of the population that is not so hugely flawed. (Wish I knew more about JS - maybe I need a good biography. Is there one out there?)
Just the same, however, he is a wonderful writer and while I am not clapping my hands together over the prospect of the next JS book, I am pretty sure that it will be another beautifully written one and that I will be happy that I read it.
Okay, I don't really need a Mack and his gang in my life. But Doc is such a wonderful character.
I am so glad I didn't give up on Steinbeck yet after my first try!
Thanks to Joe, who gave me a link to show me what a boiler was like. That was early on in the story, but it kept nagging at me and I was wondering how a person, let alone two people could actually live in one, so it was very helpful.
Ah yes - everyone wants to do something nice for Doc...
So very true...
Steinbeck looks deeper than actions, recognizes intent, and does not begrudge forgiveness... eg Doc's party. He embraces the good in people and I like that.
He just makes me feel better about the human condition ... the potential of acceptance without bitterness or the need to control.
He also sees the heroic in the ordinary... eg, the response to the flu epidemic.
I wish I didn't have to go to work so I could just sit on the couch and finish this wonderful little novel.
What a beautiful novel to start off the Steinbeck-athon!
I will raise my previous rating from a 4 to 4.5
Second reading = more insight
Why I liked this book:
Very poetic indeed.
Imagery - stunning and clear
Characters - a study in individuality/community, weak/strong
Point of view/insight - compassionate and heartbreaking
Conflicts - destruction, compromise and resolution
Hope and comfort in misfortune
I became a Steinbeck fan in my early 20's. It's now been many years since I read Cannery Row, but I do remember loving the imagery.
From the blurb at the end of my book, I'm now looking forward to returning to Monterey inTortilla Flat.
-- Steinbeck's clean and elegant (and yes, poetic!) prose, his descriptions of setting and of people -- especially his descriptions of characters who only briefly people the narrative, add to its depth and vividness, but who don't actually advance the story,
-- his deep compassion and insight into the good hearts of men overcome by their addiction to booze,
-- his descriptions of the internal experience of dogs, cats, gophers, mice..... but without sentimentality or anthropomorphizing, and
-- the fact that he added to the cast of characters who will stay with me, who have become real: Mack, Doc, Lee Chong -- they feel so real.
"I may have to skip reviewing this novel altogether, which is something I never do..."
Here's a challenge for you - see if you can do it! ;-)
#55 Here's a challenge for you - see if you can do it!
Now that you put it like that Claudia, I'm just going to have to show you I can, won't I?
Really, reading this book is an experience.
It's not all that long and worth the ride.
It's the reading that's important here.
And you got us to do it, Ilana! Thanks!
And thank you, aulsmith, for the idea. I hadn't noticed the "comments" field, which will allow for comments to help me remember a book without worrying about others reading my sometimes eloquent and sometimes banal comments! :-)
Anne, glad you've joined us and that your reading of Cannery Row was as positive an experience as for so many of us.
Has anyone not liked this little novel yet?
I was wondering that too! I firmly believe that there is no one book that appeals to every reader. So . . . if one were to dislike this book, what is it that they would dislike?
I was dubious when I picked it up . . . after all, isn't Steinbeck very grim? And a mid-twentieth century novel written by an American male, telling stories about the underclass in some poor small town--sounds dreadful to me. But from the first paragraph I was enthralled. His sentences were so elegant, yet simple. And he brought such heart and empathy to his characters. Just wonderful.
My thoughts here, not a review really just a few comments.
I'm so stoked that so many of you decided to join in, and still more are doing so, encouraged by all the positive feedback on Cannery Row. Seems like our 'Beckathon is off to a brilliant start! :-)
I also have a personal sad story to do with frogs.
Looooong ago, when I was maybe 2 or 3, we were vacationing by a lake. City bound people that we were, I saw a frog for the first time. My mum said I should hold it carefully and not squeeze it, so I held it gently and observed it with big round eyes and little mouth forming and "O" for a while, but then when I'd finished looking at it, I pitched it back into the shallow water as if it was a baseball, not realizing what I was doing until the deed was done. I asked my mum if the frog was likely to have gotten hurt and she said "probably, hon" with a pitying look on her face. I've never forgiven myself for that. Silly I know, but there we have it. So of course when I read about the frog hunt, I couldn't help but be reminded of that experience.
Still to do with animals, I simply adored chapter 31 about the gopher:
"He came to the place over land and found it good and he began his burrow on a little eminence where he could look out among the mallow weeds and see the trucks go by on Cannery Row. He could watch the feet of Mack and the boys as they crossed the lot to the Palace Flophouse. As he dug down into the coal-black earth he found it even more perfect, for there were great rocks under the soil. When he made his great chamber for the storing of food it was under a rock so that it could never cave in no matter how hard it rained. It was a place where he could settle down and raise any number of families and the burrow could increase in all directions."
And then of course, no females came and he had to move away...
I'm glad you're not one to do it on purpose, though.
I also adored the part in Cannery Row about the gopher. He became a furry little character in the story and I love the description of his work and planning --- and then the unsentimental note that he had to move away. But at least he didn't get hurt.
And yes, the gopher part was wonderful!
I would think the frog would be glad to get back to what he knew best. I'm sure your little hand was soft and warm - but - he was a frog!
But if it makes you feel bad... don't explain it to me. I must be dense this morning. ;-)
For such a short novel, there WAS an awful lot of good stuff in Cannery Row!
#77 I haven't read Of Mice and Men in so long that I barely remember it. I do know we read it in high school and that I thought it was brilliant and sad.
#78 Thanks for the sympathy Joe. I'm just a big softie when it comes to animals. It's kind of ridiculous, but there you have it :-)
#79 I'm glad you enjoyed revisiting CR. I look forward to my first reading of Travels with Charley, though it'll be a while to get to is as it's scheduled in November.
#80 That's a great observation actually. Steinbeck used a similar device with Grapes of Wrath, where he alternated between longer chapters which moved the story along, with short observations on the plight of the farmers during the Great Depression. I liked the fact that he was giving us the story from the perspective of one family's experience and then giving us the bigger picture and all the ramifications as well.
#81 I keep saying this, but I look forward to reading it again. I reread a couple of my favourite chapters (the boiler and the gopher) and found it's the kind of story that can easily be picked up like that—reading any one chapter at random, which makes for a different kind of experience.
#82 Don't worry about it Claudia. One of my many neuroses, that's all. ;-)
For such a short novel, there WAS an awful lot of good stuff in Cannery Row!
Agreed. Steinbeck definitely went for quality and not quantity with this one!
6,63 (aulsmith): Yeah. The language is gorgeous, and I'm especially drawn to the science. The attitude toward women... not so much.
Actually, I'll try not to give too much away, but I'd rather be careful than waste it for someone else.
As a self-confessed Steinbeckaphobe, I approached the book with trepidation. But I read it, I loved it, and now I can't get it out of my head. Cannery Row has changed my opinion of Steinbeck in 30 short chapters. A strange little book, where not a lot happens, but a huge amount is going on.
I find it's the background images that are sticking with me: William's realisation that he 'has to do it', even though it now seems so silly; the frogs escaping; the curtains.
I'm still wary of The Red Pony which bored me rigid and especially, The Pearl which I remember as sad and boring, but I'm much more prepared to give them a chance than I was as a 13-14 year old.
I finished the book yesterday. I had actually just read it for the first time a few months ago but I have no problem rereading Steinbeck.
I liked how the moments of tragedy (oh my, poor Frankie) can still be interspersed with levity (I particularly enjoyed the beer milkshake bit).
Cracked up over all the frogs escaping. They must have been very confused frogs. :)
Beautiful language. I paused-and-reread at the cats dripping over fences, too. (And I loved how the cats were all so fat on fish heads they ignored the local gopher with his wonderful burrow.)
The descriptions of natural beauty were wonderful, and I found that quite unexpected, I thought it'd be a dreary industrial smelly location with canneries, but he showed that nature is still abundant at the sea edge, near the river, even in the vacant lot where Mack and his boys lived. I really felt I knew what it was like, he brought me right into that area of California, and I've even been Google mapping and street viewing to see what it's like now.
I wish I knew more about the music Doc listened to. I may need to do some Googling there! (And thanks to whoever posted the link about Ed Ricketts above, that was a great little background article.)
And the characters were all wonderful. I think I'd even like having Mack and his boys living locally, they were good hearted people, and I rather approve of a lifestyle which isn't about being a consumer. They did the bare minimum to get by, they did it well (well, apart from collecting frogs and/or cats for Doc), why should they do more?
Thanks for everyone for running the Steinbeckathon and I hope the other books are half this good!
#85 A strange little book, where not a lot happens, but a huge amount is going on.
Jen, I too thought this was a great way to sum up this book, which I tried to do much less elegantly above!
But better yet to me were the two previous sentences:
As a self-confessed Steinbeckaphobe, I approached the book with trepidation. But I read it, I loved it, and now I can't get it out of my head. Cannery Row has changed my opinion of Steinbeck in 30 short chapters.
That alone makes me so glad we decided to go ahead with the Steinbeckathon!
I haven't read The Red Pony yet, though have had that little book standing by for so long that I don't remember acquiring that particular used copy, but must say I have to strongly disagree with you about The Pearl. I read it in 2008 and was so impressed by it that it cemented my love for Steinbeck and his amazing capacity to understand the human condition and to pack so much into such little packages. Unfortunately, I wasn't as assiduous about writing reviews back then as I am now, so don't remember exactly the thoughts I came away with, though impressions from the book remain with me still, and I look forward to reading it again in November. Hope you will give it another chance then too!
#87 I had actually just read it for the first time a few months ago but I have no problem rereading Steinbeck
Music to my ears! :-)
#88 Tania, thank you so much for sharing your impressions of the book here with us. I really enjoyed reading your post. I was really thrilled when Steinbeck described one classical music album which I was familiar with, and will also look into this further eventually.
I'm glad you enjoyed this experience so much and hope you'll be joining us for as many other Steinbeck novels as you are inspired to read this year. I'm sure you'll find at least a couple more to your liking.
#89 Ilana, so far as The Pearl is concerned, it was a forced reading, age 14, with a number of supply teachers who thought we were obnoxious teenagers with too much to say for ourselves (we probably were, actually :-) ). Poor book didn't stand a chance. The Red Pony was also a school read, but two years earlier.
X number of years later, with my own family, I imagine I'll empathise a lot more with it. I certainly intend to read it, and I'll fess up, no matter what I think at the end of it.
I think sometimes you're just the wrong age for a book. I detested Catcher in the Rye, which I reckon has a lot to do with being in my twenties at the time and wanting the little brat to just GROW UP! - but maybe that's a complaint for a different thread :-)
I note that Google maps now has photos from the general public that can overlay their images. (Maybe it's been there a while, but I've never "visited" anywhere touristy this way before!) I was hoping that they were going to be vintage photos, but no, just photos from modern tourists.
Did a Google for older photos, this one's a bit large, so I won't copy it here: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/FindingAids/dynaweb/calher/jvac/figures/j12EH-735A.j...
http://www.mtycounty.com/pgs-misc/cannery-row.html has a history of Old Cannery Row, with some pictures. Women in the canning factories weren't mentioned in the book, yet it looks as if a lot of women worked there! (And some children...)
http://cagenweb.com/monterey/album/Industry/ also has some great industrial imagery.
It also has some great pictures.
I hate to put a damper on all the feel good comments but something's on my mind and I'd like to know if anyone thought this too. Where do you think Doc got the human fetuses? And why did he not visit the girls at the local uh hem gentlemen's club? Any connection?
(I don't think that he secretly performed abortions himself)
About the girls... well, he sometimes had female visitors from wherever. Maybe he just was a very private man and didn't want anyone in the neighbourhood to see behind his facade. He had all the paintings and books and shared his knowledge with the girls. For them he was a man of the mind, so maybe he just didn't want them to see the man with physical needs.
Edit: fixed 2 typos
Nathalie's explanation is a good one, but your question does now make me wonder whether Doc didn't indeed perhaps give the girls a helping hand, so to speak, when one of them got in 'trouble'. There is nothing in the book that I know it to prove nor disprove this theory.
As a frequent audio listener, I know just what you mean Judy. I wonder though what bits you wished you could have sped up?
1) My mother and father both enjoyed Cannery Row and because my Dad was also a marine biologist he knew about Ricketts and his efforts. The early 1950's found our family transplanted to California and sometime in 1954 my parents made a trip to Cannery Row. At that time it was a run down ruin, however, many of the places, including Doc's lab, while shuttered, were still standing. My parents more or less used the book as their guide to the place and somewhere in the pile of family snapshots I have a picture of my Mom standing in front of Doc's lab. Many years later when I read my Mom's copy of Cannery Row she told me about their visit.
2) As a result of unpleasant world events I was drafted some years back and spent my two years plus aboard a U.S. tin can. Because of my duties on board I had a small phone booth type office. I had rearranged the filing cabinet contents so that I had one drawer to myself and I packed it with books. I did a lot of reading while in the service and my penchant for reading and my stash of books were known to everyone aboard ship.
One evening I was sitting in my office reading when there was a knock on the door. It turned out to be one of my shipmates (I've forgotten his name) and he wanted to know if he could borrow one of my books. I knew his taste in books ran to s**tkickers and f**k books (as they were called back then)and I told him I didn't happen to have anything in either vein. He said he had actually grown tired of those and was looking for something different. I thought a moment and then I gave him a paperback copy of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. About two days later he came back with the book and a friend. He had made such a fuss about the book that his friend was eager to read it and wanted to know if he could borrow it. I said sure, no problem, just be sure to take care of it and bring it back. He agreed and about two days later he came back with yet another friend in tow and we went through the same drill. This was repeated about 5 more times and then around the 6th time the person came back without the book but told me to whom he had lent it and later in the day that person came by and told me he had it, was taking good care of it, and, by the way, so far it was a great read. The book continued to be lent in this fashion for another 8 or 9 go 'rounds and then it just disappeared into the lending circuit of our ship. The last time I saw the book was about a year later. It was in the hip pocket of a snipe disappearing down Bravo 4. It was dirty, greasy, taped, dog eared, and intact...and it was obviously being read.
I have no idea how many people read that copy of Cannery Row but from the standpoint of entertainment, education, and light reading value received I think the two dollars I spent for that book was probably the best two dollar investment I ever made.
And, thank you to Ilana and all the others who have shared their love for Cannery Row. I've been quiet on this thread, though I've been silently nodding in the background. I'm looking forward to reading The Wayward Bus in February.
#108 Donna, no need to thank me, it's been a rewarding experience sharing this book with so many people who've enjoyed it so much. It was a new discovery for me and I know I'll be reading it again more than once in future. I'm happy you'll be joining us for The Wayward Bus!
Well put, alco!
#118 Thanks for that link, I enjoyed your review and the quotes bring back great moments too.
I'm trying to move on to the next Steinbeck, but it's in paper and I'm carrying my Kindle, so - maybe later on.
Berly - I find that I do really need to be in the right time and space to really enjoy some books. But in the end, not everyone likes and dislikes the same things. I was hoping someone would pipe up with some criticisms here, just for some variety. So rather than hate, I'd like to say thanks for posting.
I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but it took me several chapters to get into this book and I was mostly bewildered at the beginning, having no idea where it was going. The lack of narrative was confusing to me, even though I knew I shouldn't look for one, but once I *got* that he was basically painting pictures of the place with words, I was able to appreciate it. It did help a lot that I was in the right place for it, because I can very well see me not at all appreciating this book in other circumstances.
Katherine, I didn't react to comments about that because I don't really see anything bothersome. Which isn't to say it's not a valid point. I think Cannery Row, in the novel anyway, is about men and their world and their views, and that women are seen through that particular lens. I don't question that filter, because I think it's indicative of the time during which it was written, and also, of the views held by many men. Whether I like that or not doesn't really enter the equation somehow.
That being said, I'd be very curious to know what it is specifically that bothered you and why?
I'm glad you did pipe up. It's nice when people enjoy something almost uniformly, but then, it doesn't make for very animated discussions for one, and it also limits our ability to learn and see other points of view.