“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. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitant are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gambler and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holymen” and he would have meant the same thing.”
-Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
I’ve read Cannery Row perhaps half a dozen times, every time I’ve relished this uniquely insightful portrayal of a little slice of Americana, the canning district of Monterey, California where the characters are slowly putting together a better world for themselves in the post-depression era. Resourceful yet marginalized characters, good humour, and a degree of violence are my most vivid memories of a book without much of a plot. I last read the novella about 3 years ago but I’d still venture it remains my favourite book to date.
I had hoped to acquire it for a friend who isn’t much of a reader, as the saying goes:
“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book yet.”
And I’ve often though Cannery Row was a good place to start for many a non-reader. Although it was published over 65 years ago, the people and lives thrown together in the book all have echoes of familiarity; most importantly for this target audience however is the fact that the whole thing is artfully packed into just 180 pages and every word matters.
To my great distress my second-hand scavenging has so far failed to throw up a copy; I may have to resort to Dymmocks, humph.
For a really good, yet succinct review of the book and better overview of the plot try The Book Nest blog.