Sunday, November 24, 2013


John Steinbeck, Writer, Jackson J Benson, The Viking Press, 1984, 1041 pp

I like to read biographies of authors I admire. Usually I read the author's novels first and then the biography but in this case I read the biography of John Steinbeck as I read the novels. It worked out well because Jackson Benson wrote about Steinbeck's writing of each book and what was going on in his life as he wrote. I found it reassuring to learn about the agonies he went through as he wrote, the self doubt, the difficulty in settling down to write. I have similar problems, the difference being that he finished and published many novels.

Because of My Big Fat Reading Project, I started reading Steinbeck in 2003 with The Grapes of Wrath which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. I've been reading this life of Steinbeck for 10 years! Of course since the man lived for 66 years, I read it in one-sixth of the time it took him to live his life. 

The original title of the 1984 hardcover Viking edition was The True Adventures of John Steinbeck, Writer. It makes him sound like a cartoon superhero. In fact, though he was not looking for fame or fortune, the man always pursued adventure and travel. He had a strong interest in heroic deeds.

Since Benson already wrote over 1000 pages, I don't need to write more paragraphs except to say it was wonderful to get such a full picture of an author whose novels I have loved. He was a complex, tempestuous person who married three times and had an unhappy relationship with his kids but kept the same literary agent and publisher for his entire career. Despite his interpersonal issues, he cared passionately for people, justice, and his country.

I always manage to forget the subject of a biography will die at the end. When Steinbeck died, I cried. Thanks to Jackson J Benson's hard work and sympathetic understanding, I almost felt I had known John Steinbeck.

(John Steinbeck, Writer is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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