"It has always seemed strange to me, " said Doc. "Things we admire in men, kindness, and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second."
"Who wants to be good if he has to be hungry too?" said Richard Frost.
"Oh, it isn't a matter of hunger. It's something quite different. The sale of souls to gain the whole world is completely voluntary and almost unanimous-but not quite. "
from Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
I just finished reading a couple of Steinbeck's shorter novels, Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. They're both fun reads but they're not without their problems. Some of Steinbeck's attempts at dialect have aged poorly, and his depiction of the paisanos of Monterey, California are well-meaning but come across as patronizing (at best).
My favorite Steinbeck novels are his most focused. East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath are not just great stories; they're works of enormous philosophical depth. Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row, on the other hand, are just good yarns. They're well-told slice-of-life stories, funny ones, but not a great deal else.
I've seen more than one contemporary reviewer who claimed that Steinbeck's prose was so lacking in art that his books are effectively unreadable. I don't get that at all. I'm hardly an expert, but I find his style more readable and enjoyable than, say, Hemingway's forced minimalism or Faulkner's showboating. I'm not saying that anyone who prefers those two is wrong, but I prefer Steinbeck. If that makes me pedestrian, well, it's hardly the first time that label's been applied to me.
When I tell someone that Terry Pratchett's Small Gods is one of my favorite books, the most common response is that they, too, love The God of Small Things. I've heard this often enough that I'm reading The God of Small Things now. I'll let you know what I think when I'm done, but so far? I'm hooked.