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Book of the Week — Cannery Row

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.

Cannery Row
John Steinbeck (1902-1968)
New York: The Viking Press, 1945
First edition, second state
PS3537 T3234 C3 1945

Cannery Row is a Depression-era novel set in Monterey, California. The story takes place on a grungy street: “the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots, junk heaps, sardine canneries of corregated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses.” The street was based on a real street, since re-named “Cannery Row.” The cast of characters is as broad as the range of the make-up of the street: a marine biologist, a grocer, a restaurant owner and a band of vagabonds, described as, “gentlemen and philosophers united by a common dislike of a steady job and a mutual feeling for the pleasures of living according to their lights.” John Steinbeck, who was born in Monterey County, based much of this novel on his own experiences.

Growing up, Steinbeck knew fishermen and other workers and was a close friend with marine biologist, Ed Ricketts, who worked on the real Cannery Row.

Original pictorial dust jacket designed by Arthur Hawkins, Jr. The first edition was published using materials in conformity with wartime conservation measures. Issued both in paper wrappers and in cloth with dust jacket, it was first bound in light buff cloth. When supplies ran out, the job was finished in yellow cloth.

Rare Books copy gift from the Frank O’Rourke Collection.

For more on the European encounter with the American West, see our digital exhibition, The Roar of Distant Breakers.

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