Sweet Thursday

John Steinbeck is one of my all-time favorite authors. While Sweet Thursday is completely different from a novel like The Grapes of Wrath, it contains the magic, joy, humanity, and wisdom that he infuses into his novels so well.

I love the way Steinbeck shows community life, especially in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. It doesn’t matter that the characters are down on their luck because they all know each other and look out for each other. Sweet Thursday made me want to live in a boiler or at the Palace Flophouse. It made me want to seek these characters out and go to a Hooptedoodle to celebrate life and friendship.

Sweet Thursday was first published in 1954. Doc comes back from World War II and attempts to resume his life at his Cannery Row laboratory. Mack and the boys at the Palace Flophouse notice that he’s not quite the same after the war and they try to cheer him up.

There are so many hilarious and insightful scenes in this novel. One part that made me laugh was when Doc went out on a date and talked about octopi the whole time. The story goes on to say, “the subject of her eyes, her feelings, her skin, her thoughts, did not come up.”

Then there’s Hazel, known as the densest of all the characters living at the flophouse. Fauna reads his horoscope one day and tells him that he’s going to become President of the United States. Hazel doesn’t want to be President, but he reluctantly tries to take on the responsibility.

One of my favorite characters was Jingleballicks, a scientist friend of Doc’s who suddenly appears in his laboratory. He loves to rant and rave and argue with Doc. When he first appears, Doc accuses him of being seen outside on his hands and knees, pulling a worm out of the ground with his teeth. That’s probably one of the most unique ways of introducing a character that I’ve ever noticed.

I loved everything Jingleballicks said while ranting and raving, like this:

“Man has solved his problems. Predators he has removed from the earth; heat and cold he has turned aside; communicable disease he has practically eliminated. The old live on, the young do not die…It is a cosmic joke. Preoccupation with survival has set the stage for extinction.”

It’s amazing that this was published in 1954. The novel mentions that doing away with fishing limits during the war devastated the area’s fishing industry, while adding, “it was done for patriotic reasons but that didn’t bring the fish back.” You’d never think a story like this would contain such environmental messages.

Mostly though, this novel is a celebration of community life and friendship. The day of Sweet Thursday, the day everyone anticipates, is perfectly described in all kinds of ways. Here are a few:

“There is no doubt that forces were in motion on that Thursday in Cannery Row. Some of the causes and directions have been in process for generations. There are always some people who claim they felt it coming. Those who remember say it felt like earthquake weather.”

“Old people sit looking off into the distance and remember inaccurately that the days of their youth were all like that.”

“Miss Graves, who sings the lead in the butterfly pageant in Pacific Grove, saw her first leprechaun up in back of the reservoir – but you can’t tell everything that happened every place on that Sweet Thursday.”

Of course, I’m not going to say what happens on Sweet Thursday. You’ll have to read the book to find out. Happy weekend – I hope you’ll find a Hooptedoodle out there somewhere!

A huge thank you to Patsy from Patsy’s Creative Corner and BJ at My Book-a-logue for the latest reviews of Ocean Echoes. You can find beautiful paintings and drawings at Patsy’s Creative Corner and excellent book reviews at My Book-a-logue. The latest ocean life paintings by Patsy were inspired by Ocean Echoes. That means so much to me. Please visit and follow if you’re not familiar with them already.

Thank you to everyone for reading Ocean Echoes. It’s so nice to know that the book has touched a few lives out there – that makes it all worthwhile.

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Memorable Characters in David Copperfield

David CopperfieldCharles Dickens once said of all his books, David Copperfield was his favorite. I had to read it just for that reason.

It’s known as one of his most autobiographical novels. The story travels through the main character’s life from childhood into adulthood while showing the choices he makes and the ramifications of those choices.

It’s the story of a relatively normal life in early 1800s England and because of that we get to be immersed in all the sights and sounds and expectations of the time.

The best part of his life turns out to be the people he chooses to spend it with. All kinds of characters appear and disappear and then appear again. They truly color his life and make it worth living.

London

From the eccentric aunt who yells out, “Donkeys!” whenever a donkey dares to wander into her yard to Mr. Micawber, who distributes IOUs as if they were real money, to the infamous Uriah Heep, who’s always described as slimy, the characters bring so much to the novel and the reader never knows when they’re going to appear. Whenever I’d start to get a little bored with the story, another character would wander back in and I’d be entertained again.

LondonDavid Copperfield was first published in 1850 and the story takes place from the 1820s on. In some ways, it was ahead of its time, mostly because Aunt Betsey Trotwood speaks out against the way women and children were treated. I loved that character’s spunk.

She takes care of Mr. Dick, who has been working on a speech for years and makes kites out of his drafts because his obsession with King Charles the First keeps slipping in. He flies the kites as a way of diffusing the words and clearing his mind.

And then there’s Uriah Heep. He’s one of those people you love to hate and he’s described perfectly with passages like this:

“His damp cold hand felt so like a frog in mine that I was tempted to drop it and run away.”

“I found Uriah reading a great fat book, with such demonstrative attention, that his lank forefinger followed up every line as he read, and made clammy tracks along the page (or so I fully believed) like a snail.”

I think my favorite Dickens novel is still A Tale of Two Cities because it’s more story oriented, but the characters in David Copperfield have stayed with me long after reading it. Recommended to anyone who wants to spend time with some memorable characters.

Have you encountered any memorable characters lately? What made them memorable?  

The Wrong Way to Start a Reading Challenge

With the new year stretching out before us, anything seems possible. Because of that, I’m challenging myself to read 50 books this year.Last year was my first attempt at counting the number of books and I might have lost count, but it came to less than 50. It’s possible that I’ve never read anything close to that in a year. It wouldn’t be much of a challenge though if I tried for an easy number like 10 or 20, so I decided to go for 50.

Then I started reading The Brothers Karamazov. I’ve enjoyed it so far, but couldn’t help nodding off two or three times while reading it last weekend. I could blame the dog. She gets blamed for most things anyway and she kept me warm while making a quick nap look like a great idea at the time.

hibernating

Still, I managed to get through 70 or so pages. While feeling pretty good about that, I checked to see the total number of pages in the book: 770. That means I’ve only got 700 pages to go before finishing my first book of a 50-book challenge. I’m feeling challenged already.

How many books can you read in a year? Will you be doing a reading challenge? Do you know of any easy reads that should be added to my list?

One Hundred Fifty Years Later, Charles Dickens Is Making Me Laugh

Dickens’ Dream photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It amazes me that anyone can pick up a book and read the words and thoughts of someone who lived hundreds of years ago.

Classic literature isn’t always treated with the reverence it deserves. Some may describe it as boring or outdated. Yet it can teach us so much, not only about history, but about ourselves.

I didn’t think A Tale of Two Cities would make me laugh as much as it has so far. But it does make me laugh because much of what Dickens describes is still relevant today. He shows that people can be funny, whether they know it or not (and whether they want to admit it or not). To show you what I mean, here are a few passages:

“Except on the crown, which was raggedly bald, he had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over it, and growing downhill almost to his broad, blunt nose. It was so like Smith’s work, so much more like the top of a strongly spiked wall than a head of hair, that the best of players at leap-frog might have declined him, as the most dangerous man in the world to go over.”

“The mildewy inside of the coach, with its damp and dirty straw, its disagreeable smell, and its obscurity, was rather like a larger dog kennel. Mr. Lorry, the passenger, shaking himself out of it in chains of straw, a tangle of shaggy wrapper, flapping hat, and muddy legs, was rather like a larger sort of dog.”

“Cramped in all kinds of dun cupboards and hutches at Tellson’s, the oldest of men carried on the business gravely. When they took a young man into Tellson’s London house, they hid him somewhere till he was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him. Then only was he permitted to be seen, spectacularly poring over large books…”

Dickens is famous for his characters. For any writers who might be struggling with character description, I’d recommend reading one of his books. Not only is he entertaining, but he tackles the “show, don’t tell” rule in a very fun way.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth. Luckily, we can still laugh with and learn from people who lived hundreds of years ago.

What are some of your favorite classics? Which authors make you laugh?