Friday, July 26, 2013

Visiting Cannery Row with John Steinbeck

One of the classics that Kevin Smokler looks at in his book Practical Classics is John Steinbeck's Cannery Row.  The action of this 1945 novel takes place in Monterey, California. I have actually visited the area and seen the fish canneries (now shops) and had my photo taken under the street sign.

The novel concerns marine biologist Doc and his group of friends: the madam of the local bordello; the grocer; and, a group of itinerant men known as 'the boys' who occasionally work in the canneries.

It is a story of community and, Smokler writes, was Steinbeck's way of reliving his early life in California with his own group of friends. Steinbeck, already wealthy and famous, was in his forties when he wrote this, his twelfth novel. 

Smokler writes:
He wrote Cannery Row out of longing for the place that held part of his youth, now gone. 

...of places where special things happen and memories dwell, of everyone around you knowing and looking after you, of nothing mattering outside your circle of friends. 

I recently picked up a paperback copy of Cannery Row from the library sale table. I think I paid 50 cents for it. It sits here in a stack by my reading chair. It may be time I revisited Doc and his world.

Here is its opening line:
"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream."

It is that nostalgia, that dream, that Steinbeck was hungering for.


  1. hHaven't read a Steinbeck for years and don't know that I ever read Cannery Row. Will add to my list.

    Don't think I ever told you that I enjoyed reading Bradbury's Dandelion Wine which you talked about awhile back. I've come to trust your recommendations!

    We enjoyed a cooler day today - high 76 - and is to be under 90 for the rest of the week. Even if we get some rain I think the 4-Hers will enjoy the fair for a change this year. It's been SO hot the last few years they've let them take the animals, especially the poultry, home early.

    Joyce in KS

    1. Joyce, so glad you liked 'Dandelion Wine'. I thought it was the perfect summer read.

      It has cooled down here as well. Such a relief from the past few years. I have been reading on my porch which is a real treat in July!