Thursday, March 08, 2007

Johnny Yen's Fave Raves: Cannery Row

Recently, a couple of my favorite bloggers, Natalie and Lulu had a literary meme on their sites that's been making the rounds-- a list of books, in which you'd mark off which books you'd read, which you'd planned to read and which were your favorites. The list of books is an interesting mix of everything from classics, like the Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and the Bible to more recent "pop" books like The Celestine Prophecy and Tuesdays With Morrie.

I like the meme and plan on doing it, but looking through the list made me think about the books I've read and the books I want to read, most of which were not on the list.

From about 1989 to 1993, I went on a tear, plowing through a list of mostly non-fiction books that I'd wanted to read. A lot of them were books that were constantly referenced in other non-fiction books. One in particular was African-American scholar W.E.B Dubois' Black Reconstruction, a lengthy classic. Other books I plowed through included Stanley Karnow's Vietnam: A History, Tad Szulc's Fidel, Frederick Douglas' autobiography, a biography of Rosa Luxemburg, W. Bruce Lincoln's account of the Russian Revolution, Red Victory, a biography of Lucy Parsons and Fire From the Mountain, Omar Cabezas' brilliant account of his participation in the Sandinista revolution.

Years ago, one of my regulars at The Smokehouse, a restaurant I worked at around that time, pointed out that I needed to read more non-fiction. She was right, but I did manage to read at least one fiction book in that period, a book I now love and come back to and re-read occasionally-- John Steinbeck's Cannery Row.

I've read other Steinbeck-- I read The Moon is Down in high school, and found it powerful. I read The Grapes of Wrath and found it a great, angering book. But I keep coming back to Cannery Row for various reasons. Part of it is simply that I love Northern California, the setting for the book. I've been to Monterey, and when I read the book, I can hear the surf, I can smell the smells, taste the tastes of the region. I also love Steinbeck's style-- I just love his use of language. But mostly, I love the character of Doc. He's found this alternately sad and beautiful little corner of the world, surrounded with fascinating and flawed characters. He stands out because unlike most of the other people there he is educated. He runs his little business, collecting marine biology specimens that will make their way to biology classrooms in high schools and colleges. He drinks and fraternizes and in the end is maybe the only one there who sees the beauty among the tide and struggling men and women of Cannery Row.

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