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.)


  1. I really enjoyed reading your review about John Steinbeck, Writer by Jackson J. Benson. It sounds like a biography I would love to read and a very comprehensive biography at that.

    As a side note, since you've read The Grapes of Wrath, you may be interested in reading Steinbeck's letters/journal to his editor titled: 'Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath'... It sounds similar to the 'Journal of a Novel' I recently read and reviewed on my blog about John Steinbeck's notes/letters on writing East of Eden.

    And lastly, as another side note that relates to John Steinbeck, my husband and I lived in Santa Barbara, California for 16 years. During our time there we attended many literary events. One evening, we attended an event where various short stories were being read by various narrators... One of the short stories that was being read had been written by John Steinbeck's son, Tom Steinbeck, who lived in Santa Barbara with his wife. It just so happened that my husband and I were sitting right next to Tom Steinbeck and his wife during the event and didn't know it until he was introduced later on in the evening! We were able to speak with Tom Steinbeck and his wife and he was really nice and had very interesting things to say.

    I was also able to met Tom Steinbeck again at an indie bookstore in Santa Barbara where he was signing copies of his novels. He was once again very personable to each and everyone who came to see him at the event. He would spend a sizable amount of time speaking with each person who came in to have books signed by him, which I found endearing. It was one of my most memorable author signings I've been too. I am happy that I have all three of 3 of Tom Steinbeck's books in my collection. Sadly, he passed away last year.

    1. Thank you! I know from the biography that John Steinbeck had a life-long and very close relationship with his editor. Those journals sound so interesting. And your stories about Tom are wonderful. Someday I must check out his books.