Book 36 Cannery Row

“You couldn’t say you wore a beard because you liked a beard.  People didn’t like you for telling the truth.  You had to say you had a scar so you couldn’t shave… Because he loved true things, he tried to explain.”



This book has been in my mind for a long time, I just never knew it.  “With your sheet metal memory of Cannery Row and your magazine husband who one day just had to go”

I’ve been humming that line for years, it comes from Bob Dylan’s most famous song to his first wife,, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.”  Does it have anything or revealing about the story?  No, like most things on Blonde on Blonde it was probably just stringing together lyrics.  just a bit of trivia to open with.


The above may not have been the best quote to sum up Cannery Row, which was a fairly good book to read, a good use of an afternoon at least.  It reminded me a great deal of Tortilla Flat except that I didn’t have the same problem with the characters as I did in Tortilla Flat there were self destructive people in this book, but it was a wanton chosen self destruction.  The Residents of what is called the Palace Flop House decides they want to throw a party for Doc, who the community agrees is a swell guy.  Most of the narrative revolves around trying to get this party set up.  The residents of the Palace are good people, but they live their lives in the way they want to.  Doc admires them, even after they’ve wrecked his place of business with the party which he didn’t even get to attend:

“’They could ruin their lives and get money.  Mack has qualities of genius.  They’re all very clever if they want something.  They just know the nature of things too well to be caught in that wanting.’”

The story is primarily one of best intentions.  Mack and the boys set out to get a party for Doc, and try to get what they can for themselves out of it at every turn.  Probably the uncomfortable thing is that we can recognize our own actions in a lot of the things they do, mostly they’re just looking for ways to have a good drink and relax a little bit.

Fitzgerald said that writers have only one or two things that they can write about, and they spend the rest of their writing lives trying to dress these themes up in different ways, but they are at the root of all of their writing.  My own themes can probably be summed up with God, guns and girls – probably the Kentuckian in me.  Steinbeck’s main theme, and every English major or literarily inclined person will react to this revelation as if I’d just explained to them that the earth revolves around the sun, but his main theme is community.  Cannery Row, Tortilla Flat, East of Eden they all deal with community and the stories that are told there.  One of my goals before I started this blog was to read a new Steinbeck book every month, I lost track of that, but I’ve got four or five more to work with, so let us add that to the goals we’re already working with.

Place, even if setting is one of my weaker points, is one of he most important elements I think to a person’s storytelling, and I mean that as around the water cooler.  Sitting in the break room or a coffee shop and eavesdropping can give you a lot of fodder for fiction, some of my favorite stories are those that focus around a place.  There is a very good book called We, The Drowned that focuses on the history of a Danish port town as it goes from the War for Holstein in the 1800s past World War 1, you are grounded in some very strong characters, but the sense of place is important.

As for Cannery Row, read it if you like Steinbeck, otherwise you probably wont care, although the scene where they’re using frogs for currency is legitimately funny.

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