Commenting on his hometown of Salinas in Monterey County, California, John Steinbeck once wrote, “I think I would like to write the story of this whole valley, of all the little towns and all the farms and ranches in the wilder hills.” Next week, Mr. bookbabie and I are hitting the open road, driving from San Diego to Napa, and along the way we will pass through “Steinbeck Country”. When I was growing up, my mother was an avid reader and we had a wall of books in our family room. It was like having a small library in our house and I used to stand in front of those shelves and pull out books, turning them over in my hands, looking at the covers and reading a sentence or two until I found one that peaked my interest. It was there that I first discovered John Steinbeck’s novels and I read Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, and the Pulitzer Prize winner The Grapes of Wrath, in quick succession.
When John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, The New York Times wrote a scathing editorial questioning the choice of Steinbeck for the prize and stating that there were more deserving writers. The so-called Eastern Literary Establishment often criticized his work because it sold, it appealed to the masses and because the masses were obviously simple-minded, his writing was considered by some to be simplistic and sentimental. I find it ironic that a writer was scorned because he wrote prose that was clean and well crafted, and because he wrote stories that connected deeply with his readers. Being as simple-minded as I am, I probably could not hold my own in a scholarly debate about the relevance of John Steinbeck’s work. My expertise simply comes from the viewpoint of a young girl first delving into the world of the great American novel and finding a writer who didn’t disappoint, a writer who’s work has endured because it eloquently speaks the language of the American landscape and touches the human heart. Now I ask you, what’s so bad about that?