Monday, December 20, 2010

Remembering... John Steinbeck

As far as reading is concerned, I guess you could call me pretty lucky; the novels I was 'forced' to read in school (as if I ever had to be forced to read, especially in school) are today some of my all-time favourites. Surprisingly, this was not the experience of most of my friends...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAmong the formidable works I assayed in Mrs. Horsfall's class - 1984, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Tin Flute to name just three - one in particular stands even above these masterpieces in my recollection: John Steinbeck's Cannery Row (1945). As an exile from the West Coast in the cultural (not to mention meteorological) aridity of Saskatchewan I often found myself gasping for moisture; opening the front cover of Cannery Row for the first time, then, was akin to peeling a grapefruit in the shower.

It isn't a vast sweeping epic in the sense some of his works - The Grapes of Wrath (1939) or East of Eden (1952), for instance - are; it's a slice of life rich in characterization - not unlike Tortilla Flat (1935) or The Wayward Bus (1947) - yet even more sensitively rendered than they. Its sequel, Sweet Thursday (1947), finds the same characters the same number of years older as their author - some jaded, some embittered, some the same old happy-go-lucky - and provides a bittersweet bookend to its predecessor.

John Steinbeck's career, naturally, extended into the movies; Of Mice and Men (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Tortilla Flat (1942), The Red Pony (1949), East of Eden (1955), The Wayward Bus (1956), and Cannery Row (1982) were all adapted for the cinema before Of Mice and Men was remade in 1992. In addition, he wrote an original screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock entitled Lifeboat (1944).

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath, in 1962 John Steinbeck was also awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; plus, as the image shows, he was a handsome devil - which is surely the sweetest prize of them all. He died on this day in 1968.
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