Immersed in Steinbeck

From the interactive exhibits at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, to lunch at the Steinbeck House and a view of the author’s childhood room where he later wrote “The Red Pony” – I was immersed in everything Steinbeck.

When I was in Steinbeck country a few years ago, I read “Sweet Thursday” for the first time, but did not understand the relationship between the real Doc and John Steinbeck until I saw the exhibits this time at the Center.

The Center’s bookstore had every Steinbeck publication as well as DVDs of books made into movies; of course, I had to add to my collection:
Steinbeck’s classic “The Pearl”; Steinbeck’s last published book, “America and the Americans”; and “The Steinbeck House Cookbook.”

I came away determined to reread a few old favorites too, especially the two slated for remakes: a Steven Spielberg version of “The Grapes of Wrath,” and a Ron Howard directed “East of Eden.”

Have you read any Steinbeck or seen the movie versions? John Malkovich in “Of Mice and Men” is one of my favorites.





Revisiting Steinbeck and Sweet Thursday

This week I am back in Steinbeck country – Monterey, California.  Steinbeck wrote The Pastures of Heaven in Pacific Grove – not far from the Asilomar Conference Grounds, where I am enjoying the company of friends, the beautiful ocean vista, and trying to learn how to liberate some fabric.  Two years ago, on my last visit, I reminisced about Steinbeck and wrote about the paperback I bought in the Asilomar country store – Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday.  Now I have a Kindle – so many more possibilities…

Revisiting Steinbeck

Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, but most of his early success was in the 1930s and 1940s. One of his later books, Sweet Thursday, published in 1954, is  targeted for one of my book club reads later this summer – a good reason to revisit the story.

Not a big fan of Steinbeck – I only read Grapes of Wrath because it was required for English 101 – I was pleasantly surprised by the funny sarcasm woven into the philosophy of Sweet Thursday. Sweet Thursday is the day that follows lousy Wednesday – haven’t you had a lousy Wednesday like this…

“Some days are born ugly. From the very first light they are no damn good whatever the weather, and everybody knows it. No one knows what causes this, but on such a day people resist getting out of bed and set their heels against the day. When they are finally forced out by hunger or a job, they find that the day is just as lousy as they knew it would be.

On such a day, it is impossible to make a good cup of coffee, shoestrings break, cups leap from the shelf by themselves and shatter on the floor….This is the day the cat chooses to have kittens and the housebroken dogs wet on the floor.

Oh! It’s awful, such a day! The postman brings overdue bills. If it’s a sunny day it is too damn sunny, and if it is dark who can stand it?”

Steinbeck’s characters are feisty and live the hard life in the real world – as in most of his writing – but in Sweet Thursday, life gets better. Steinbeck reintroduces Doc from Cannery Row; he’s returned from the war, and cannot get back to the way things were – mostly, because nothing will ever again be as it was. The story revolves around his discontent, his attempt to write a scholarly paper about octopus emotions, and finally finding an unlikely soul mate in Suzy, the hooker.

Others conspire to help Doc become fulfilled and happy – each having a different, sometimes hilarious, plan that will keep you smiling and nodding knowingly: Flora, renamed Fauna, the madam of the local brothel; Hazel (male), whose fortune reading by the Seer predicts Hazel will be president; Joe Elegant; Wide Ida; Mack, Joseph and Mary, and on it goes.

Luckily, lousy Wednesday is followed by sweet Thursday – a day when Doc cooks sausages with chocolate and everything seems to go as planned – or better. Then, the aftermath on “waiting Friday,” wondering what Saturday will bring. Each chapter is titled with foreshadowing of the event to be described, and Steinbeck seems to be channeling Mark Twain at times, but the delivery is much more irreverent.

For Pacific Grove fans, Steinbeck includes a chapter on the famous butterflies in one of his two “hooptedoodle” chapters – interesting to read but nothing to do with the plot.  In the end, Doc gets the girl and his research, and drives off into the California sunset – funny and satisfying.

If you have a hankerin’ to revisit a classic writer, Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday is a sweet read.