I read the first paragraph of chapter one, and thought I should find some good pictures to paste into the blog--maybe a map--to illustrate what we're about to read. But here's the thing, and see if you agree: just as the same story read by two people (or, in the potentially applicable case of movies, viewed by two people--and I can't help by think of Doubt, in this case) is different for each experience, so this description is so much more personal if left un-objectified by a photograph. A map, perhaps, wouldn't be so bad. Besides, isn't the Salinas Valley and Monterey Bay from Steinbeck's time just a little different than what we might see were we to drive through it? (And those of you who've read other Steinbeck, permit yourself an amalgam survey of the land--I love Tortilla Flat for this comparison.)
Reading Questions 1
- In the opening paragraphs, Steinbeck seems very nostalgic, especially in describing the land as the lap of a mother. Name and briefly describe a physical location where you feel such safety, nostalgia, and--perhaps inexplicable or irrational--beauty.
- One of my very favorite aspects of Steinbeck's writing is the level of characterization he ascribes the setting. If you were to compare the land to a person--even a specific person (please, no names, unless the person is so generic simply by dint of supremely elevated social status, like a movie star, politician, hotel heiress that there's nothing personal to it) or an archetype--who embodies the same, well, character as the Salinas Valley. More simply, what is the personality, as depicted here, of this land? (Think also: is this one "person," or more--a family, clan, community; is it over a moment in the life of so-and-so, or across his/her/their collected life?)
- "You can boast about anything if it's all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast."
- "Once a woman told me that colored flowers would seem more bright if you added a few white flowers to give the colors definition."
- I have been reading recently a book called The Hero and the Crown, a Newberry winner no less, by Robin McKinley. Perhaps it's good this is through the veil of the internet and I can't be shot, but I'm having a devil of time enjoying this book (so why am I still reading?). The story is fine, the characters are good, but the writing is infuriating! And not because the writing is bad (it isn't), but because it is so distant. I feel entirely disconnected from the events and characters (I don't care!), like I'm reading the story of a story of a story (which, somehow, Borges does to great effect and success, but that's another time). Here, Steinbeck, giving extremely detailed description of THE LAND, which should be utter drudgery, somehow, miraculously, makes it interesting, engaging, and so dag-gone personal! How does he accomplish this? (Or am I delusional and alone?) Where else have you seen/experienced something like this?
- "...the land would shout with grass."
- "And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich year, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way."
- "Periodically the owners killed the cattle for their hides and tallow and left the meat to the vultures and coyotes."
- Consider the names. Wherever you may come from, there are place names that really mean something. You have no idea what they mean, but the sense of meaning is there--thickly there. There is a buzz of folklore and superstition about it--not negative, just present and alive. Please list some of those names.
- What does Steinbeck tell us about the subject/theme of the book to follow by this first chapter? What, narratively speaking, IS the land of the Salinas Valley?
NOTE and REQUEST: When making you comments or answering questions (and yes, the un-question-marked quotations are indeed questions), please include the number of the question at the top of your comment.