“There’s nothing like that first taste of beer.” – Doc, from Cannery Row
John Steinbeck was born on this day in 1902 in Salinas, California. Steinbeck gave a voice to the disenfranchised and those who struggle to labor for a living. He became a household name for his book, Of Mice and Men, published in 1937, which was adapted for Broadway and won the Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play the same year. Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath, published in 1939, won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; its protagonist Tom Joad has been the subject of songs by musicians ranging from Woody Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen.
But it’s Steinbeck’s Cannery Row that I’ve read a dozen times since I first picked it up twenty-some years ago. My daughter read Cannery Row out of curiosity and asked me what I saw in the book that I read it over and over. My answer is this:
Steinbeck creates a world of tramps and drunks and whores held together by a protagonist named Doc, a demigod marine biologist who walks across the street from his lab each day to buy two quarts of beer, and writes about it with such eloquence and humanity it is as powerful as scripture.
Perhaps more powerful.