Unabridged Steinbeck

Like millions of high school students, I successfully bypassed The Grapes of Wrath and other assigned literary works by relying on little black and yellow pamphlets known as CliffsNotes. As such, I sadly graduated with only an abridged education in literature.

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Steinbeck’s Salinas “America’s Salad Bowl”

Since then, I have expanded my interest by reading the full-length versions of Grapes and several other John Steinbeck novels. To learn more about this great 20th century California author, I drove about 25 miles east of Monterey to the prosperous farming community of Salinas. Known as “America’s Salad Bowl”, the Salinas Valley has generated an abundance of produce and one particularly famous writer.

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Birthplace and boyhood home of John Steinbeck

Upon arriving in Salinas, I found the Steinbeck House, a beautifully restored Queen Anne Victorian, sitting comfortably on a large corner lot. Fittingly, the docent started the tour in the front room of the house, where baby John was delivered in the winter of 1902. As a shy introspective boy, John had a strong interest in writing, and was always a curious and engaged author. In this grand home, he wrote from his upstairs bedroom, until he left for Stanford University.

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National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, California

With new insight into Steinbeck’s well-to-do childhood, I walked three blocks to the end of Main Street and the National Steinbeck Center. As a modern tribute to Salinas’ native son, the spacious museum contains the largest collection of John Steinbeck archives in the United States. Inside, I immersed myself in the exhibits that chronologically followed Steinbeck through his life and books.

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Steinbeck Family Cottage, Pacific Grove

In his writing, Steinbeck drew heavily upon his life experiences in the Salinas Valley and nearby Monterey. Early on, as a struggling author, Steinbeck lived and wrote in the family’s cottage in Pacific Grove, not far from the stink of the bustling sardine canneries of Monterey. It was here that he was inspired to write his popular novel Cannery Row.

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John Steinbeck atop the Steinbeck Plaza Monument

Based on the fame of Steinbeck’s novel, the city of Monterey renamed Ocean Avenue as Cannery Row. Here within Steinbeck Plaza overlooking the clear waters of McAbee Beach, the author is honored with a commemorative fountain statue. To me, it looks like the reserved and humble writer is self-consciously seated, alone atop this lofty memorial.

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Final resting place at Garden of Memories Cemetery, Salinas

Just a few days before his death in 1968, Steinbeck said to his wife Elaine that “No man should be buried in alien soil”. Back in Salinas, John’s cremated ashes rest in peace in the unpretentious family gravesite, alongside his third wife Elaine Anderson, younger sister Mary, father John Ernst Steinbeck and mother Olive Hamilton.

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Steinbeck receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1962

After a prodigious writing career, including a Nobel Prize for Literature, Pulitzer Prize Fiction Award, and United States Medal of Freedom, John Steinbeck remained true to his roots, planted deep within the fertile soil of the Salinas Valley. After my slow start in high school English class, I am happy that I finally discovered Steinbeck and the complete versions of the award-winning books of this great California author.

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Lizzie looking for artichoke hearts

14 thoughts on “Unabridged Steinbeck

  1. You are the second blogger I follow who has mentioned CliffNotes recently. I had never heard of them in high school and, once I got to college, they weren’t useful or available for the books I was reading. I can’t imagine missing the beauty of Steinbeck’s writings. How wonderful it is that you are able to visit many of the places he wrote about and that shaped him as a writer. The National Steinbeck Center is not to be missed by anyone who wants to learn more about him and the history of the area.

    Liked by 1 person

    • At 16, I just wasn’t mature enough to appreciate Steinbeck and the other beautiful literature we were required to read in high school. Forty years later, I now understand why my English teacher wanted so badly for us to be exposed to these great books. For me, visiting the Steinbeck sites around Salinas and Monterey really brings his work to life, and sears his words in my memory.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. We loved Monterey too, and even one month there was not enough time. I am so glad that I finally discovered Steinbeck. I should have listened to my inner nerd in high school, and read him back then. Your own captivating writing style is probably a reflection of your life-long interest in literature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, well, gosh, *blush*, thanks!
      One month in Monterey? That sounds wonderful! We were only there for a few days, after a longer stay in San Francisco. We decided next time we’d spend less time in SF and more time in Monterey.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing this glimpse of John Steinbeck’s life and also beautiful Monterey. I was one of those kids who devoured books in high school and loved John Steinbeck’s novels. (I don’t know if there’s ever been a better villain than Cathy in “East of Eden.”) In fact, when I’m looking for my next read I might just go back and revisit his books! Anita

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Anita, For me, discovering Steinbeck in my 50s has been a pleasant reading and learning experience. East of Eden is one of his great books that I have not read yet. I hope to pick up a copy when we get home next month. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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