Monday, August 28, 2006

gophers and Doc

i'm not sure what to do with the last two chapters. are the gopher and Doc connected? why write about the gopher if it doesn't have something to do with the town? seems the furry guy had a good life but it got ruined because it wasn't quite everything he needed....

does Doc have an epiphany at the end (the language implies one: high ocean tide, high foam and bubbles in the sink) and if so what is it exactly? i'm usually not too good with ambiguous conclusions.


Friday, August 25, 2006

gorgeous Mack

I feel bad for suggesting the CR characters are just messed up people, especially after a section i read today. here's a beautiful part- Mack talking to the man who tried to kick the boys out of frog-catching territory. strangely enough, Mack reminded me of Gatsby in that passage. Fitzgerald wrote something like, "If personality is a series of successful gestures, then there was a sort of gorgeousness [about Gatsby]." and Mack was brilliant. he played the man just right, making conversation, complimenting his dog and being able to treat it, all done with total sincerity, and everyone had a good time.

Erica wrote "humans are simply another animal in nature." the gorgeousness of Steinbeck is his ability create this reality in two directions. in CR, animals are simply more humans in nature. in the scene where the boys capture the frogs, the frogs are discussed as though they were human. they have a prescribed behavior and certain expectations. they even have "a history." it's awesome. i was literally thinking of the frogs as my poor brothers! AND, the death of the frogs reminded me of the two suicides. the frogs operated with a plan. they jumped into the water as always, but they were thrown a new twist in routine. similarly, one of the suicidal guys kept trying to do the things he expected to cheer him up. such and such "would be refreshing" after some ordeal he had. and all the things he tried, even to the end, led to his suicide, when he "knew then he had to do it." the frogs did everything that came naturally, but it all led to disaster for them at one end of the lake..... love this book


looking in through the glass

well written, Erica. we ARE just viewers of these lives, and i have had the feeling you speak of w/o being quite able to put it in words (specimens in tide pools). i've wondered what the little one and two page stories about new characters are for, and they are what you say in a way, just another exhibit in the west wing or the south hall of the aquarium. and i even see them as such! they are beautiful, tragic, and mysterious. perhaps my position as only a viewer is what allows me to laugh so joyfully at their seemingly messed up lives.

why is it so much harder to laugh at myself....?!

Humans in the tide pools

I agree with Brian--The scenes and descriptions of the tide pools are amazing...and these are what most remind me of Moby-Dick...humans are simply another animal in nature, with all the pleasant and not-so pleasant implications of that...another specimen to investigate and study--human babies are in jars in Doc's lab and sliced up on slides just like the octopi and anemones. All life is on an equal footing...all is precious, mysterious, amazing...and all is to be examined and observed.

Tide pools at Monterey Bay

Thinking of the Monterey Bay aquarium and the tide pools of Monterey Bay, the book is another investigation into lives of animals...I know that's a little dramatic and cliche, but I can't help but be drawn to the idea that each chapter is like looking into a different exhibit tank at the aquarium. It's just that we're looking at people and observing their behavior rather than that of jellies. And yet, observing both jellies and people is fascinating, mysterious, and lovely.

Nature is beautiful, cruel, seemingly random, and yet, there seem to be patterns and other forces that are just beyond our grasp or understanding. Is it just our human minds that have to ascribe meaning to everything ("surely all this is not without meaning", or are we actually on the right track, and we just haven't discovered the exact nature of the patterns and the meanings thereof.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

our father who art in nature

i have read The Pearl, East of Eden, and half of Grapes of Wrath. i remembered Steinbeck being a matter-of-fact teller of stories, but i did not recall him being matter-of-fact in such a humorous and beautiful way. he has blown my mind at least once in each small section. some of his sentences could be sung, and they create visual images to perfection, particulary the scene on the ocean floor at the beinning of chapter 6: "Orange and speckled nudibranches slide gracefully over the rocks, their skirts waving like the dresses of Spanish dancers." just one example out of bunches.

i'm curious about the two suicides. how do they fit into the big point/picture? i'm fascinated by the "Thy father who art in nature" lines. it seems to me that Steinbeck is interested in showing serendipity and ill-luck side by side in both nature and on Cannery Row. does Steinbeck believe humans to be part of the machine of nature? are we subject to the laws of nature or above some of them? in the underwater scene mentioned above he shows incredible beauty and instinctual "cruelty," the anemones, "like soft and brilliant flowers, inviting any tired and perplexed animal to lie for a moment in their arms . . ." and this is just the way things are. when Gay goes for a new point for the carburetor needle, "out of all the possibilities in the world--the millions of them--only events occurred that lead to the Salinas jail." the same type of event-by-event descent seems to lead to the two suicides early on. does this make Steinbeck a fatalist? is nature ruled by determinism? is God?

CR is making me laugh a lot by the way, and because of the sadly comic characters and the beautiful language/descriptions, i think this one is my favorite J.S. so far!


Sunday, August 20, 2006

Energy, mystery and creativity; Man, nature and art

This is such a slender, easy-to-read sliver of a novel, I have to stop myself from pouring through the whole thing in one sitting. I’m trying to savor it, but really, I suck at prolonged gratification. I’ll be lucky if I make it last beyond tonight. But I'll keep posting and discussing it until I can cajole a few more of you, dear readers, into joining me. ;)

On the selection of a text: I heartily recommend the 1994 Penguin edition, 0140187375. Although I wasn't inspired by the cover image, it includes a very good introduction by Susan Shillinglaw. She makes lots of comparisons between CR and M-D, so I instantly like her and CR all the more.

And, speaking of M-D, the first chapter is very call-me-ishmael in that you are well aware that
a. you’re about to read a classic novel by
b. a classic writer, so
c. your expectations are really high and actually you’re not even looking to be impressed (how could you be),

but then you read the first chapter, and you realize you’ve stopped breathing. Brilliant writing will always thrill us, because brilliant writers are able to capture something beyond our expectations. When it works, it’s magic.

Ok, back to the first and last lines of chapter 1:
First line (which I remember reading on walls and murals Monterey):
“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.”

Last line (which almost brought me to tears…this is when I at once miss writing terribly but also remember how freakin’ hard it is to do well…it’s not something you can plow through or gut out…it’s a weird mix of finesse, strength, patience, self-confidence, endurance, luck, love, and fear)

“How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise--the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream--be set down alive? 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 might be the way to write this book--to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.”

How do you write about a place and people who are so close to you and yet not mangle them or treat them too kindly and in either respect, create a caricature of what you found compelling and attractive, warts and all?

Steinbeck wrote, "I love the Monterey county out of all proportion to what it is." (According to Shillinglaw's intro.) I wonder what it means for someone like Steinbeck who wrote with such a carefully trained observing eye, and could disect the world and the animals (including people) within with scientific precision, to acknowledge an illogical infatuation and deep love for a place and the people who lived there.

Shillinglaw continues, "So the long saga of the Monterey material may well be, as it evolves, a love story, first about a place and then about the man who contained all the energy and mystery and creativity that that place signified for Steinbeck, Edward Flanders Ricketts."

And this is part of what I love about this book. It touches on what is horrible and lovely about how connected and dependent we are on each other--particularly on those few people we meet in life that not only contain all the energy, mystery, and creativity for which we ache, but some how seem to draw the same out of us.

Image taken at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Let the reading begin

Are you going to Monterey for IL06 in October? Or, have you just wanted to read Cannery Row and never had the chance? Have you read CR in the past, and would like a chance to post your thoughts, comments, and musings online with other potentially like minded individuals?

Let the reading and posting begin....