22 May 2011

the row

I am reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. It is one of his shorter novels at 144 pages. Steinbeck writes for a certain era and, to my surprise, not everyone can get into his words. Once I was in a book club and only two of us finished The Grapes of Wrath. There was so much to talk about but some readers found the language too colloquial to be accessible. So preview a Steinbeck book before you buy it. But, you should know, he is a master and a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Once you get him, you will be happy you made the (minor) effort. 

With no order or cohesion, I present to you some excerpts:

When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch, You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that may be the way to write this book - to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves. 

Our father who art in nature, who has given the gift of survival to the coyote, the common brown rat, the English sparrow, the house fly and the moth, must have a great and overwhelming love for no-goods and blots-on-the-town and bums, and Mack and the boys. Virtues and graces and laziness and zest. Our father who art in nature.

Once the safe got locked by mistake and no one knew the combination. And in the safe was an open can of sardines and a piece of Roquefort cheese. Before the combination could be sent by the maker of the lock, there was trouble in the safe. It was then that Doc devised a method for getting revenge on a bank if anyone should ever want to. "Rent a safety deposit box," he said, "then deposit in it one whole fresh salmon and go away for six months."

Early morning is a time of magic in Cannery Row. In the gray time after the light has come and before the sun has risen, the Row seems to hang suspended out of time in a silvery light. The street lights go out, and the weeds are a brilliant green. The corrugated iron of the canneries glows with the pearly lucency of platinum or old pewter. No automobiles are running then. The street is silent of progress and business. And the rush and drag of the waves can be heard as they splash in among the piles of the canneries. It is a time of great peace, a deserted time, A little era of rest.

Photo from Google Images. Quotes from "Cannery Row" in The Short Novels of John Steinbeck. Toronto: Penguin Books, 2009.

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