Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review: "Cannery Row" Classic a Month #6

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
5 out of 5 stars

My sister picked this classic for June for me, because she went thru a huge Steinbeck phase right after high school and wanted me to read more of his books. Turns out this was one of the few she actually hadn't read though lol. Luckily, I ended up enjoying it immensely. It was a simple but beautiful book and I highly, highly recommend it. I do have a confession to make before I get into the review though and it's pretty embarrassing. I've always pronounced the title as "Canary Row" like the bird. Until I started reading it and realized it was about a canning factory town and it was actually "Cannery Row". *hangs head*

Okay, so this book is told in a series of small stories or vignettes. The stories have little do with each other individually, but they grow into a bigger picture of the town and its people. In the end, you're left with this beautiful picture of small-town life and its quirky inhabitants. (Side Note: I was just Googling stuff about the book and found out there is a sequel, called Sweet Thursday! Awesome. Classic for July? Possibly!)

Cannery Row in Monterey in California [in the mid 1930s] is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Wow. John Steinbeck is the master of description (not disguise). I hadn't read any of his books since high school and I am honestly really regretting it now. The way he twists words and creates worlds just makes me want to wrap myself up in them like a blanket. And obviously, he makes me want to be more descriptive too lol.

If there had to be a main character in this story, I guess it would be Doc. The owner of a biology lab that sells sea creatures (and other creatures) to students and researchers, Doc somehow became the fountain of philosophy and science and art of this town. People come to him for wisdom, beauty, monetary and theological help. And when they do, he is there. No questions asked. It's for this reason that a ne'er-do-well named Mack and his "boys" decide to throw Doc a party. Although their hearts are in the right place, things never end up quite right when these guys are involved. [T]hey were the worst threats to a home, for they offered ease and thought and companionship as opposed to neatness, order, and properness. The party scenes were probably some of my favorite parts of the story.

I honestly don't know what else I can say about this book. Read it. Enjoy the lyrical ups and downs of the words. Highlight the parts that grab you, the passages you can taste and smell and feel. Although this book is nothing like The Book Thief, it has that same hold on me; its words have been embedded in my heart. And now I'm wondering if it is the story of Cannery Row or the talent of John Steinbeck that strikes such a chord. I think July's classic is going to be Steinbeck too, but not this sequel. Yes, I have decided. :)

Then the sun came up and shook the night chill out of the air the way you'd shake a rug.


  1. I was forced to read Grapes of Wrath in high school, and I found it so slow that I was turned off of Steinbeck ever since. In my defense, this book directly followed Huck Finn, which is a hard act to follow! This doesn't sound so bad, though. Would you (or your sister) say that his style is the same in this book as in his others?

    1. I think I remember reading Grapes of Wrath too...wasn't it really long and depressing? This one is much lighter (although there is talk of suicide, so be warned).

      If it has been more than 5 years since you were in HS, I think it's worth it to give Steinbeck (or any of the books from back then) another shot. I'm giving The Pearl another try, even though I hated it in HS. The only one I refuse to try again is The Old Man and The Sea by Hemingway lol.

    2. Yes, Grapes of Wrath was incredibly long and depressing. There was a whole chapter dedicated to a turtle's attempt to cross a road. I love symbolism as much as the next reader, but c'mon, Steinbeck! It has been - ahem - more than 5 years (but less than 10!)since high school for me, and a couple of his books are on the "1001 Books To Read Before You Die" list, so I think I will give it another shot. Thanks for the great blog post!

      P.S. I've yet to tackle Hemingway, you're the first person I've seen to dare speak of his book(s) with disdain, lol!

    3. Well, it's been a few more than 10 years for me lol...I picked up 3 of his books at the library Saturday and I'm excited to see if they are as good as this one.

      Oh yeah, me and Hemingway, we don't get along. ;)