Frog economy and temperate Mars

Pine cathedral by Ellen Schneider

I finished reading Cannery Row by John Steinbeck a little more than a week ago. It is a splendid book. I’m glad I finally read it. The frog collecting trip, the economy of frogs at Lee Chong’s, and the ill-conceived party were all hilarious. I really loved the image of a river of escaping frogs. Talk about your remarkable migration events! I’ll bet if any biologist ever tried to do those genetics they’d have a real head-scratcher. The idea of how much any given consumer item is worth in frogs will forever color my shopping experience. Would that case of Guinness be worth ten frogs? Or maybe as much as twenty? As currency frogs are certainly cuter than any given founding father though I admit my opinion is biased.


Calling male wood frog by Ellen Schneider

I love Steinbeck’s prose in this book. I love the calm clinical dissection of humanity in its natural habitat. The introduction to the edition I read praised Steinbeck’s scientific approach to the work. The character of Doc was apparently based upon a real marine biologist friend of Steinbeck. Doc’s approach to life, being lonely in a crowd, accepting of his neighbors, and calm in the face of crisis were all chalked up to the scientific/ecological worldview espoused by Steinbeck and his friend. Aside from the lonely bit, I thought that kind acceptance and calm were just virtues of good people. I suspect that the introduction’s author is giving science a little too much credit.


If a scientific profession is more like a state of mind or philosophy of life than a mere career I will say that I was very struck by Doc’s behavior when he found out about the second party. Even after the absolute disaster that was the first party, he does nothing to stop this intended party from occurring. Instead Doc just sits down, ponders what he can do to mitigate his losses, and locks down the expensive equipment and rattlesnakes. In short he prepares for the storm to come with philosophy. That kind of calm detachment is supposed to be the hallmark of science. It is certainly something I want to cultivate in myself.

The author of the introduction said that Steinbeck really drew creative strength from his scientific training, that ability to clinically describe a situation or a character like he was recording an experimental observation. He didn’t write from an emotional place apparently, he wrote from a place removed as a keen observer and that argument makes sense. I find it personally heartening to think that Steinbeck’s scientific background only served as a source of strength and inspiration to him as an artist.


Paw prints by Ellen Schneider

The final metaphor of the healthy young gopher building his gopher paradise was so poignant. At first when I read it I thought it might have something to do with how even urban wildlife couldn’t flourish in the industrial wasteland of Cannery Row. That the entire scene was another critique of the harsh environment of the Row which can bring even seemingly strong men low. Yet after finishing the book and reading the introduction I decided that I preferred the explanation offered by its author. The gopher, like any other life, can’t truly flourish in paradise. It can only grow and propagate in risky conditions that are less than ideal. That made sense. Certainly it is an interpretation more in keeping with Steinbeck’s other work that I’ve read and read about. More importantly it just feels real. I can just picture that glossy furred bright eyed gopher beaming at his domain before the fall of his hopes. Before he had to make the best of things less two toes in a garden with traps. But at least he would not be alone in that trapped garden and the inhabitants of the Row have each other, flawed though they are.


Munising Beach in B&W by Ellen Schneider

I’ve made more progress in reading Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. It is splendid easy reading without being facile. I’m enjoying it. I love its dark humor. I love Bradbury’s conception of Martian everyday life with all its foibles and pitfalls. I can visualize the roiling cauldron of lava in which they cook their food, their toy spiders, their golden eyes, and the light winking off their masks. I just recently finished reading the tale of the second rocket from Earth and found myself snorting with humor as the whole crew was committed to an asylum. That probably is how it would go if we ever made first contact with a civilization contemporary to ourselves in development, just on another world. Would anyone here believe in explorers from space? We’d probably think it was a Hollywood stunt or reality TV. Heck, a shocking proportion of Americans still think humanity never landed on the moon. If they don’t believe in our exploration to our nearest stellar neighbor why would the public here take seriously a group of fellows in a rocket ship? I’m excited to keep reading and will post more thoughts as I progress.


Finally, I’m up to page 930 in The Tale of Genji. Hurrah! Only 205 pages to go. =) Things are starting to get a little bit ridiculous for Karou and I confess to laughing my head off at his expense. I don’t care if I was meant to laugh or not, sometimes a good belly laugh is worth appreciating regardless of the source. Today I will close my post with a simple plea to the universe: please, Universe, let an animated musical harem comedy be made based on Genji! 




2 thoughts on “Frog economy and temperate Mars

  1. Wasn’t Cannery Row great? I just love the way Steinbeck describes things. He is able to describe something, and in the process make it obvious that there is no other way that thing/event/person could be. It just is that way, and it is beautiful for the reality of it.

    But I loved Mack and the shop keeper and the hilarious hijinks! I will probably push to go visit Cannery Row next time I am in California. I’d like to see if Steinbeck’s descriptions do it justice, even though the atmosphere in the book was set up by the characters more than the place. I definitely need to read more Steinbeck though. I am amazed at his versatility. He can go from artistic descriptions of the human condition to vivid depictions of the natural world to comedic descriptions of the pitfalls of human nature in such a short space, and it all works so well together.

    I haven’t finished the Martian Chronicles yet, even though its a short book and I’ve been working on it for weeks. I have been suggesting it to everyone though, as often as possible. The variety of themes in the stories has really impressed me though, and again, Bradbury merges the serious with the hilarious with relative ease. The story about the last man on Mars meeting the last woman on Mars had me in stitches! The House of Usher story is also hilarious in its own macabre way.

    Hope your summer is going well! Reading your entry here reminds me of how little I write for fun these days and how much skill I’ve probably lost from not practicing. You are an excellent writer and I very much enjoy your book updates 🙂

    • Cannery Row was awesome! I love how you put Steinbeck’s ability to create the illusion of fact with conviction “He is able to describe something, and in the process make it obvious that there is no other way that thing/event/person could be. It just is that way, and it is beautiful for the reality of it.” That’s awesome! You may not write as much as you want to, Bethany, but I don’t think you’re losing your skills. Mack and Lee Chong’s antagonism was fabulous. I love how they are never openly hostile but manage to project a lot of menace and threat nonetheless while still being friendly. Now that I think about it, they are kind of like frenemies. They don’t get on but they seem to rely on each other nevertheless. I hope you can go to Cannery Row and that it doesn’t disappoint. I just hope that there is still a Lee Chong’s. Everything else can and probably has changed but by gum I hope you can go there in August and buy decorations for President’s Day. If you get to go take pictures, please!

      I haven’t finished Martian Chronicles yet either. That’s the downside of reading so many books at once, I don’t finish them with alacrity. I’m almost done with Genji though and I’m making slow and steady progress with the rest. I’m excited by your description of the last Man and Woman on Mars, I can hardly wait to get that far. Bradbury wrote the intro to the edition I have and he said that he inadvertently wrote mythology in the style of Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson rather than true sci-fi when he wrote Martian Chronicles. I am super jazzed by that description, it covers so much without being verbose. Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog, Bethany! Kind words and detailed comments like yours keep me going. =)

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