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John Steinbeck by Catherine Reef

John Steinbeck

by Catherine Reef

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This book is a really good biography of the life and works of John Steinbeck, presented in a linear narrative from the author's birth to death. The book is divided into chapters that deal with particular times in his life as well as the work(s) produced during that time. The text also sheds light on how certain events of the time shaped Steinbeck's life as well as his writing. As the jacket of the book states, the biography "interweaves Steinbeck's experiences and excerpts from his writing, highlighting his skillful transformation of significant historical and social events into classics of American literature." The first chapter is the only one that is set out of chronological order, serving to foreshadow events, people and places that the author uses to help mold his stories. As a reporter for a San Francisco paper, he is sent to witness firsthand the suffering, deplorable living conditions, exploitation and discrimination that the the migrant farm workers are being subjected to. Steinbeck holds a special place in his heart for these people and returns to them time and time again to expose their stories through both his journalism and fiction. The next few chapters let us in on the author's younger days, from his youth in Salinas County through college. Somewhat of a quiet, shy kid and young adult, he was the son of parents who pushed him to read throughout his childhood and supported him in his writing. After finishing high school, he attended Stanford, set on being a writer for his career. After deciding college wasn't for him, he moved to NYC to work towards his career. The city had its ups and downs, and ultimately Steinbeck moved back to California. He took a job as a caretaker and basically isolated himself for two years, penning his first novel, Cup of Gold. From here, the book moves us along his life and works over the course of ten chapters. While it was a struggle for him to get published early on, Tortilla Flat made it big, and initiated the writing of his bigger known novels like Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. Through it all, Steinbeck never lost his love for the poor, the struggling, the afflicted, the beaten down, and his genuine love for humanity shines through in all of his works. Though he was hated by many during his time and considered a communist sympathizer, all Steinbeck ever did was expose the nasty sides that many didn't want to be seen and others simply didn't want to see. I believe the author himself sums it up best with one of my favorite quotes, "A writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectability of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature." Throughout the book are loads of great black and white photos of both Steinbeck and friends/family as well as ones depicting the times, from rural farming towns to WWII Europe. The bulk of the photos were classics taken by Dorothea Lange for the Farm Security Administration. I think this book would be a wonderful way to introduce certain works of Steinbeck prior to reading them in class. The chapters give great historical and cultural context as they relate to the works and could really spark student interest not only in the literature but the times as well. I also like the language and voice that the author uses, as it can communicate to a wide range of reading ages. I think Steinbeck's works are great for high school kids, and Catherine Reef nails it when she says, "Steinbeck appeals to young readers because he shows that it is possible to enter adulthood yet never lose the idealism, courage and natural humor of youth." ( )
  J.Davidson | Feb 1, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0395712785, Hardcover)

A photobiography of John Steinbeck, covering his life and writing career, with excerpts from his works.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:18 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

An introduction to the life and most significant works of American author John Steinbeck.

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