Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Of Mice and Men & Cannery Row - John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men (1937) and Cannery Row (1945). Author : John Steinbeck. 306 Pages (OM&M - 107 pgs; CR - 195 pgs). Genre : American Literature. Overall Rating : A.
.    This "twofer" book was published by Penguin Books in 1986. It's a nice pairing. Both stories are set in the same place (Northern California), the same time-period (1930's), and have the same theme - a bunch of "less fortunates" and the ruts they're stuck in. But the stories also nicely contrast each other. OM&M is a darker, tragic study of the hopelessness of trying to escape that rut. CR is a lighter, comedic study of a group of people who don't regard their situation as a rut at all.
.What's To Like...
    The storylines are good, all the characters are engaging (even the bad guys), and there's quite a bit of character development in these relatively short tales. Steinbeck's literary description of California in the 1930's is masterful. Both stories are the proper length. These would suck if they were 500 pages long.
.What's Not To Like...
    Not much, since I give this an "A". There is some cussing that might offend the faint-of-heart. That's not a problem for me, but it grates my soul when Steinbeck uses the ...ahem... N-word. I know it was commonly used in the 1930's, and I am dead-set against censorship, but I can't help it. That word offends me. Can't we just replace it with "black" in stories like these?
    Oh, and I got quite excited when I found that someone was selling this book for $190 on eBay, since I had picked it up for $2. Visions of untold wealth danced in my head. Alas, that $190 asking-price had the curious acronym PHP after it. It turns out that stands for "Philippines Pesos", and the PHP:USD exchange rate is about 41:1. Easy come, easy go.
Is the phrase "American Literature" an oxymoron?
    Being a biblioholic means reading a lot of "C-to-B-minus" books. After a while, one's expectations get lowered. Anything that rises a smidgen above humdrum is cause for a minor celebration. Furthermore, I'm not a big fan of any American Lit BV (before Vonnegut). So this book was a pleasant and unexpected treat. I don't know that I'm prepared to tackle Steinbeck's longer stuff (Tortilla Flat, The Grapes of Wrath), but I may have to give some of his other less-than-250-pages books a try.

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