Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Smattering of Steinbeck

It was, not surprisingly, an utter delight to read Steinbeck's America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction.  This collection shows off Steinbeck's range and ability to engage readers on a variety of topics, including the lives of California agricultural workers in the 1930s, dogs, Paris, Salinas, war, and ospreys.  Steinbeck had this fabulous ability to write both seriously and humorously, impassioned and lighthearted.  In "Always Something to Do In Salinas," he writes, in describing the social structure with regard to those in the field of agriculture, "Now we had a new set of upstarts:  Lettuce People.  Sugar People joined Cattle People in looking down their noses.  These Lettuce People had Carrot People to look down on and these in turn felt odd about associating with Cauliflower People."  In, "My War with the Ospreys," Steinbeck writes, "Those lousy, slip-shod, larcenous birds , those ingrates, those - those ospreys."  Even though many of the essays in this collection were written over 50 years ago, some of the themes seem very relevant to today.  In "Dear Adlai," he writes, "Having too many THINGS they spend their hours and money on the couch searching for their soul."  

Other favorite quotes:

From "L'Envoi":  "I do know this - the big and mysterious America is bigger than I thought.  And more mysterious."  
From "America and Americans":  "We are afraid to be awake, afraid to be alone, afraid to be a moment without the noise  and confusion we call entertainment."
"Even businessmen in Texas wear high-heeled boots and big hats, though they ride in air-conditioned Cadillacs and have forgotten the reason for the high heels."  
"Such screwballs are very valuable to us and we would be a duller nation without them, as our economy and our means of production gently shove us nearer and nearer to a dull and single norm."  

This is a book to have on the shelf, with engaging, funny, smart, informed, witty, opinionated essays to be read again and again. 

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