Monday, February 22, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Up Close: John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck (Up Close Series) By Milton Meltzer. 2008. Penguin. 208 pages.

Foreword: No matter where travelers go round the world, they run into people who have read John Steinbeck. His deep understanding of human emotion, his sympathy with those who have been abused or neglected, his defense of their struggle for a decent standard of living, have made him one of our most beloved authors. So powerful was his writing that it earned him the world's highest award for literature, the Nobel Prize.

Chapter One: Salinas? Who ever heard of that place? Maybe not you, but millions of people around the world who've read the stories of John Steinbeck.

Milton Meltzer's biography of John Steinbeck is interesting. I was curious to learn more about this (relatively new-to-me) favorite, favorite author. (Last week, I reviewed Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.) And Meltzer's biography did a fairly good at job at introducing the subject. Readers get some details on his life, descriptions of his works, a quick examination of how the public responded to his works--how critics and readers alike responded to his books.

This is my first encounter with the "Up Close" series of biographies. And I still don't know quite what to think. There were things I liked about this biography. (The foreword was great. I think Milton Meltzer genuinely cared about John Steinbeck, that he did appreciate Steinbeck's work.) But there were things that bothered me as well. For example, the flow of the text, the narration. It wasn't always as smooth as I'd have liked. There were some bumpy paragraphs that didn't really fit in with what came before or after. I think one of the biggest problems I had was the insertion of general information and background material about twentieth century America. Young readers may need extra help in placing Steinbeck within a greater context. But these 'asides' interrupted the flow of the text. Perhaps if the text had been placed within a box of its own, been an 'article' or 'sidebar' within the text it would have been less awkward? I've seen this done in other biographies, other nonfiction books, so I know that it can be done in such a way.

The intended audience of this one is probably students. Those who may (or may not) have an option in reading Steinbeck or reading about Steinbeck. I do think this one would come in useful for writing about Steinbeck for various assignments.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

Oh, Steinbeck was all that, Becky.

And yet, I hate his books. So very hard for me to read. I haven't read one since I was forced to read "The Red Pony" in junior high. Oh, my. He is just so sad and gritty. And I'm such a Pollyanna. :)

BioPeach said...

As much as I adore John Steinbeck's novels, I have never read a biography of him.

I loved the Grapes of Wrath but his smaller novels are like balm on ragged nerves- Tortilla Flat, Sweet Thursday, Cannery Row and especially Of Mice and Men.

I guess I like to think and cry at the same time...maybe I'll give this bio a try.

Anonymous said...

I am a volunteer at the National Steinbeck Center, Salinas, Ca. May I have your permission to place your review of Milton Meltzer's book in our archives with other reviews, essays and articles about John Steinbeck ? The better biography would be the very detailed one by Jackson Benson.

Herb Behrens