Cannery Row

20 February 2013
Written by Diana Kenny
Print Email

Pulitzer & Nobel prize-winning author John Steinbeck's 1944 novel Cannery Row is Diana's book review this month & as she recounts it remains a classic

When I was younger my introduction to American literature was in the form of works by two iconic authors - Louisa May Alcott and her novels Little Women, Little Men and Jo’s Boys and Mark Twain with his Adventures of Tom Sawyer. That was pretty much it until later in life when I discovered the writing of Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning author John Steinbeck.

It’s hard to imagine young people today reading Little Women and Jo’s Boys  and enjoying them, but Mark Twain and Steinbeck remain classic authors - with Steinbeck winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize in 1962 for his "realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception".

For me it all started with Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row, which I was reintroduced to recently though my book club.

Written in 1944 after Steinbeck, a war correspondent at the time, had returned to America after being wounded in action. Cannery Row is an attempt to re-create the early days of Steinbeck's marriage while living in Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula, California, between 1930 and 1941.

The book’s mix-match group of characters gently rub against each other in the same way that the Pacific Ocean washes up against the sands of the Monterey Peninsula - sometimes peaceful and in tune while at other times turbulent and stormy. 

The basic story line is about giving the main character, good guy Doc, a party. But to throw a party you need money and this is depression time in America and money is very tight so to earn the necessary funds an elaborate scheme is hatched with the inevitable result.

The character Doc was based on a good friend of Steinbeck - marine biologist Ed Ricketts who lived in Monterey at the time. Following the publican of Cannery Row, Ricketts became a celebrity in the area, which apparently irked him somewhat.

Intertwined with the main storyline are ‘vignettes’ - small stories with seemingly no connection to the main theme, but which seek to enhance understanding of the main characters and add an extra element to the story. 

If you have not read Steinbeck before, Cannery Row is well worth starting with - the genuine affection Steinbeck has for his characters shines through.  

Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley region of California, a culturally diverse place of rich migratory and immigrant history. He often filled his stories with struggling characters; the working class and migrant workers during the Dust Bowl and the 1930-40s American Great Depression. According to Wikipedia, Steinbeck was one of the ten most frequently banned authors from 1990 to 2004, with his book Of Mice and Men ranking sixth out of 100 such books in the United States.

Let me finish with an extract from Steinbeck's Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication to nor any membership in literature.”



Add comment

Security code

  • The Rabbit and the Shadow
    20 October, 2014
    This month we have two special guest reviewers, Freya (10) and Max (5), who share their thoughts on the award winning picture book: The Rabbit and the...
  • Extra Curricular
    19 September, 2014
    With Diana off exploring the beauty of Ireland, Sacha gives this month's book, well magazine, review - sharing her thoughts on a very special creative...
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
    19 August, 2014
    In To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee uses memorable characters to explore civil rights and racism in the segregated south of the USA during the...
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo
    20 July, 2014
    Diana reviews The Cellist of Sarajevo, a book that follows the lives of three fictional citizens of Sarajevo as they struggle to survive in the war-to...
  • The Luminaries
    20 May, 2014
    Reviewing The Luminaries, Diana discovers a brilliantly clever gold-rush boom and bust mystery/ghost story set against the backdrop of small-town New ...
  • Restless by William Boyd
    20 April, 2014
    Diana Kenny reviews the award-winning Restless, a novel depicting the tale of a young woman who discovers that her mother served as a British spy duri...
  • The Good Earth
    20 March, 2014
    Diana reviews The Good Earth, an epic novel tracing the terrors, passions, ambitions and rewards of an ordinary Chinese family caught in the tide of h...
  • Eucalyptus by Murray Bail
    20 February, 2014
    Diana Kenny reviews the acclaimed  'Eucalyptus',  a modern day fable recast in a rural Australian setting - an enchanting story of love, beauty and be...
  • The Book Thief
    20 December, 2013
    Diana Kenny describes The Book Thief as soul stirring: this story of a young girl whose passion for books sustains her while war rages, will touch you...
  • A Suitable Boy
    19 November, 2013
    Having recently travelled to India, Diana Kenny this month reviews the grand tale of an Indian mother's quest to find a ‘suitable husband' for her dau...
  • Crossing to Safety
    20 October, 2013
    Tracing the lives, loves and aspirations of two couples,  Diana's book this month gives a gentle insight into the powerful alchemy of friendship and m...
  • The Inheritance of Loss
    20 September, 2013
    As Diana Kenny writes The Inheritance of Loss is a story of joy and despair where the characters face numerous choices illuminated by an ever changing...
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog
    19 August, 2013
    Two very different characters, one young, one old, provide the double narrative of this month's book. Diana Kenny writes that you will fall in love wi...
  • Lottery
    20 July, 2013
    As Diana Kenny writes,  Patricia Wood’s debut novel 'Lottery' will make you laugh,  tug at your heartstrings and add value to your understanding of ‘f...
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
    13 June, 2013
    As Diana Kenny writes this months book follows Harold Fry on a journey of reject and self discovery as he literally and symbolically reclaims his life
  • Brain by Robin Cook
    20 May, 2013
    Our book reivew by Diana Kenny this month is 'Brain' by Robin Cook, an intriguing futuristic medical thriller of computers hard-wired to human brains ...
  • Slumdog Millionaire
    14 April, 2013
    Diana Kenny reviews Q & A, the novel by writer Vikas Swarup & the inspiration for the movie Slumdog Millionaire, noting the book is well worth a read 
  • The Uncommon Reader
    19 March, 2013
    As Diana Kenny found, the Queen's unexpected pursuit of literature is wittily revealed in this month's book review of Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Read...
  • Cannery Row
    19 February, 2013
    Pulitzer & Nobel prize-winning author John Steinbeck's 1944 novel Cannery Row is Diana's book review this month & as she recounts it remains a classic
  • House of Stone
    20 January, 2013
    Diana Kenny reviews Christina Lamb's novel House of Stone and finds a compelling story of daily struggle set against the backdrop of war-torn Zimbabwe...
  • Farewell My Lovely
    20 December, 2012

    Raymond Chandler has been discribed as the 'literary king of American cool' for his discrptive, quick witted phrases such as:

    “It was a blonde. A b...

MyMag this month...

...your magazine for inspiring stories, beautiful spaces, networking, sharing & celebrating community...

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

New Zealand


MyMag is your Mag! Subscribe today - it's FREE.  
Subscribe and receive our monthly newsletter keeping you up to date with the latest edition.