Book Bingo Reading Challenge 2022! Cannery Row – John Steinbeck

Hello Everyone!

I hope you’re all okay. I’m back at work now but definitely looking forward to the bank holiday weekend! Hopefully the weather will pick up again and it’ll be glorious instead of chilly… I had heard that May apparently is meant to be the coldest on record! I jolly well hope not… I need some sunshine in my life.

Today I want to share with you my category and book choice for April. I love my Book Bingo and I’m super proud of it. It’s really pushed me out of my comfort zone which is really what it’s all about. For April I decided to pick: Read a classic you should have read by now. I don’t know about you but I always find pressure with the classics, like I’m meant to have read them and I even get embarrassed when someone mentions a classic I haven’t read. That being said, I did study a number of them when I was at university so this category did throw up some challenges. Overall, I decided to read Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck’s work as they really do depict a specific historical time period but I’ve only ever read (and taught) Of Mice and Men. This is becoming increasingly controversial so I have relished the opportunity to reach out into more of his work.

What’s it all about?
On the surface, the plot is really simple: a group of men want to throw a party for their friend. However, this book is so much more than that. Its role is to capture the feelings and the people all located in one place: the cannery district of Monterey, California. The people there are down on their luck, lacking opportunity and those who choose for other reasons to not live in the more respectable area of town.

“The inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers, 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 holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

The first character we meet is Lee Chong, the owner of the Lee Chong Grocery. On the surface, it appears like he values profits over people however, the actions from Chong that he values people more than money. Steinbeck uses Chong to show how things aren’t as they seem and people can have different personas. Following Chong, we are then introduced to Mack and the boys. Again on the surface they are known to be pleasant guys and good hearted. But, they do have a tendency to take advantage of people and situations to benefit themselves. They refuse to live according to the conventions of society to become ‘successful’ in terms of the world view.

‘A little group of men who had in common no families, no money, and no ambitions beyond food, drink, and contentment.”

Arguably, the most important character is Doc. He is different to the others and is viewed which such high regard. He’s unlike the others too as he is educated and cultured. He is the one that the others look up to. He is always there to offer help and support. He gives advice to those who need it and also provides medicine or other medical services should they be required too. His nature inspires Mack and the boys to try and give Doc a party to thank him for everything he does for them all. There is one issue though: money. The boys take up odd jobs with none of them quick to take up anything long term. The main job is to capture some frogs.

‘He lived in a world of wonders, of excitement. He was concupiscent as a rabbit and gentle as hell. Everyone who knew him was indebted to him.’

Unfortunately, the party doesn’t quite go to plan to begin with. Sadly, Doc returns home to find his place trashed – the door hanging on its hinges, the floor littered with broken glass, phonograph records – some broken, some stolen, mostly littering the floor. Doc naturally is furious and doesn’t really understand what has happened to cause this. After he’s calmed, Doc apologises to Mack for his reaction. Mack reveals the intentions of the men and how it went wrong. Mack does seem to be someone who has regrets himself and is quite a reflective character. He promises to pay for the damages that was caused during a lengthy speech. But, Doc stops him because he knows him too well and Mack knows he is completely right.

“You’ll think about it and it’ll worry you for quite a long time, but you won’t pay for it.”

This turn of events mean that the atmosphere is awkward and uncomfortable. There’s friction and tension but when Darling, the beloved puppy becomes poorly and close to death, Mack and the men are forced to make a change. Darling is eventually saved and this gives the men a new lease of life. It is joy and not despair that is running through Cannery Row. As a result, the men decide to throw Doc another party – this time a proper one like he deserves. It. becomes an effort of all the people of Cannery Row with each of them working hard to give Doc a gift. Steinbeck uses this to show that these men, despite their circumstances have good within them and they have the ability to consider others as well as themselves. Doc finds out about the party and decides to make his own contributions. He brings his best records and also orders copious amounts of food for them all. The party ends up being a huge success – one filled with life and joy. The next morning brings quiet and stillness. Whilst cleaning up from the party, Doc remembers a poem that evoked such emotion from his guests the night before. He is in a state of equilibrium and calm. Life is fragile but so so valuable. The people around you make it count.

‘There are two possible reactions to social ostracism – either a man emerges determined to be better, purer, and kindlier or he goes bad, challenges the world and does even worse things.’

Final Thoughts
Short and powerful, I find Steinbeck just an utterly honest writer. He focuses on the men of the time period and shows how the context shapes them. I found Doc delightful but I actually really liked Mack and the boys too. I really need to devote more time to reading more Steinbeck because I do really enjoy it. I’m also really pleased about getting another classic under my belt too! American Literature is one of my favourite things so I really need to devote more time to American writers too. Lots of room for improvement here…

I hope you’re all well. I’ll see you next time for another book related post, I’m sure! Roll on the bank holiday weekend too!

Big Love all xxx

The Great Gatsby Review

Hey guys! 

Happy Bank Holiday Monday! In true British tradition, it’s rained all day. However, I’ve used that to my own advantage and had a bit of a reading day. I finished Into The Water (review in the future, maybe). I also decided to re-read The Great Gatsby. This is one of my favourite books EVER and then I realised I haven’t reviewed it which is insane. 


What’s it all about? 

The novel is told through the eyes of Nick Carraway. Nick, originally from Minnesota, moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to learn about the bond business. He rents a house in the West  Egg district of Long Island. This area is populated by the ‘new rich’, a group who have made their fortunes too recently to have established social connections, who are prone to lavish displays of wealth. Jay Gatsby, his neighbour, who lives in a glorious gothic mansion and throws extravagant parties every Saturday evening. 

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” 

Despite his surroundings, Nick is not like the others of West Egg. He was educated at Yale and has social connections in East Egg, the fashionable area of Long Island home to the upper class. Nick visits East Egg one evening to have dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and we brutish husband, Tom. Whilst there Nick meets Jordan Baker, a beautiful, cynical young woman, who he is quite taken with. It is here where Nick learns about Daisy’s marriage: Jordan reveals he has a lover, Myrtle Wilson, who lives in the valley of ashes, a grey, depressing dumping ground. Soon after, Nick travels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle. At a vulgar party in the apartment Tom keeps for Myrtle, she begins to taunt Tom about Daisy. He responds by breaking her nose. 

It is during the summer that Nick finally reveals an invitation to one of Gatsby’s parties. Here he sees Jordan which leads him to meet Gatsby himself. Gatsby is a very charismatic, well spoken with his English accent, a remarkable smile and calls everyone “old sport.” Gatsby requests Jordan’s attention alone. It is here Nick later learns more about his mysterious neighbour. Gatsby tells Jordan that he knew Daisy in Louisville in 1917 and is deeply, passionately in love with her. Gatsby spends many nights staring at the green light at the end of her dick, across the bay from his mansion. Gatsby’s lifestyle and parties are simply an attempt to impress Daisy and get her attention. 

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

Gatsby asks Nick to arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy, but he is afraid that Daisy will refuse him if she knows he still loves her. Nevertheless, Nick invites Daisy round without mentioning Gatsby. Initially, it started awkwardly. However, their love soon rekindled and their connection was re-established. 

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.” 

Over time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At a luncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Gatsby stares at Daisy with such passion, that Tom soon realises he is in love with her. Tom (the master of double standards) is outraged at the thought of his wife being involved with another man. The group take a trip to New York City. It is here that Tom confronts Gatsby. Tom asserts that he and Daisy have a history that Gatsby couldn’t understand or contemplate and he announces that Gatsby is a criminal. It is at this point that Daisy realises that she chooses Tom. Tom sends them back to New York in an act of defiance. 

On the return journey, Nick, Jordan and Tom drive through the valley of ashes. Yet, on this journey, they realise that Gatsby’s car has hit and killed Myrtle. They rush straight back to Long Island, where Nick learns from Gatsby that Daisy was in fact driving the car when it hit Myrtle. Yet, Gatsby wants to take the blame for her. 

The following day, Tom tells Myrtle’s husband, that Gatsby was the driver of the car. George, somewhat naturally concludes that as the driver he must have been a lover. George vows to get revenge so heads towards Gatsby’s house. Gatsby is shot followed by George himself. 

“I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

Nick stages a small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan and moves back to the Midwest to escape the absolute disgust he feels for people surrounding Gatsby’s life. He struggles with the moral decay among the wealthy. He reflects that Gatsby’s dream of Daisy and their love is corrupted by money an dishonesty. Fitzgerald’s nod to the American Dream of happiness and individualism. Here it is been tarnished by the pursuit of wealth. Nick’s dream and the American Dream is well and truly over. 

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” 

Overview:

I love this book for so many reasons. I even love Gatsby. I wish I had someone who loved me that much. I’d do anything for that green light. Fitzgerald is an incredible writer – I feel like I live and breathe his words. I’m also interested in his relationship with his wife Zelda. He had a fascinating yet tragic life. It was inevitable that this American Dream was going to end – his own American Dream ending was solemn. Yet, I take great hope from this little book. The mixed narration of 1st and 3rd person makes me feel like I personally know these characters and despite it all, I have hope for them. 

I have to say, my copy of this book is beautiful. I was showing my friend today. It was this that made me read it again actually. I cannot stress enough how awesome this little book is. Buy your copy from the Folio Society because all of their books are stunning too. 



Read it. Live it. 

Big love xx