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Steinbeck: A Life in Letters Paperback – April 1, 1989


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Steinbeck: A Life in Letters + Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath + Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 928 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (April 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140042881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140042887
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck is remembered as one of the greatest and best-loved American writers of the twentieth century. His complete works are available in Penguin Modern Classics. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

John Steinbeck (1902-1968), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, achieved popular success in 1935 when he published Tortilla Flat. He went on to write more than twenty-five novels, including The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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The book made me feel like the intimate friend of one of my heroes.
Darryl Rains
If you appreciate the art of letter writing, you'll be delighted with this collection of letters from John Steinbeck.
Kenneth Blum
As a result, this massive book is a pleasure to read, from start to finish.
SPM

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By SPM on April 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
Steinbeck left an autobiography of sorts when he died, a collection of personal letters to his friends. His widow and his friend worked together to gather the letters from everyone they could. They edited them for clarity and published them in chronological order.
The result is the personal story of a very creative, complex writer who worked every day with his hands. When he wasn't writing novels using pencils and a legal pad, he was mending the fence or fixing the roof. He loved people as much as he loved solitude, so he began each day by reaching out with these letters to his friends around the world. He talked about his surroundings and his thoughts and his ongoing projects.
All of this would be enough to make a wonderful book, but there's the added benefit of Steinbeck's writing style. Steinbeck used as few words as possible, always trying for a poetic effect without pretension. He wanted to be honest and accurate, but he knew the value of capturing an image or feeling with a colorful use of words. As a result, this massive book is a pleasure to read, from start to finish. Steinbeck's writing style keeps you interested but never overwhelmed.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has enjoyed a few Steinbeck novels. Aspiring writers should read it, as well. When you're done, read the Steinbeck chapter in 'Alcohol and the Writer' and Jackson Benson's books on Steinbeck. You'll be glad you did.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By DP on November 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
An unbelievable recount of a man's life through his own eyes. I didn't think that a collection of letters would amount into a good read, but I was blown away by Steinbecks determinedly honest prose. The candor and focus that Steinbeck displays in his interaction with friends, family, and associates is outstanding. Steinbeck once again wields his magical touch and inspires thought and introspection without preaching. A truly great writer, and a truly great book. This collection takes you through Steinbecks journey from college dropout, to published author, to two time divorcee, to Pulitzer Prize winner. My only criticism is that there were too few moments of rage, anger and outburst, which is difficult to capture in letter form. However, it is a raw, honest, and unforgiving account of a man's walk through life, as it serves as inspiration for any aspiring writer out there. The ending letters are excellent, and it is definitely worth your time.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Blum on December 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
If you appreciate the art of letter writing, you'll be delighted with this collection of letters from John Steinbeck.
Wow! can this man, write. But perhaps "write" is the wrong term - "think" is better. Wow! can this man think. And then he is able to express those thoughts in a clear, eloquent and, most of all, honest way that is a treat to read.
The book begins with a letter from the young, penniless author to a friend. At the time, Steinbeck was in isolation when he took a job as the winter caretaker of a lodge in Lake Tahoe. From there, he takes us along on a life journey through three marriages, financial success that always made him uncomfortable, fame that he often detested, Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, adventure in settings from the Sea of Cortez to Saigon.
The insights are astounding. His lack of pretension in the midst of his success amazes.
Here was a sensitive, often gruff but completely honest man who was not afraid to reveal himself in total to the friends he cherished.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
John Steinbeck wrote his own autobiography without intending to. He left us richer with his novels .... but getting to know him through his letters should be required reading. What an insight into someone who was following his passion. I could not put the book down. It's one of my most treasured and recommended.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Bruce A. on January 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
How can a book of letters be as fascinating as a John McPhee book, as well-written as a Steinbeck novel, as educational as the Iowa Workshop, as well as being fun, witty, and never pretentious? This book of letters will kick-start your brain and make you say "Man, could this fellow write!"
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Craig Chalquist, PhD, author of TERRAPSYCHOLOGY and DEEP CALIFORNIA on April 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
Can't put it down in any sense. This collection goes right through Steinbeck's life, from his twenties into old age, and contains many letters to key people in his life interspersed with helpful commentaries by his wife to give the reader a sense of what Steinbeck was facing when he wrote. Highly recommended, and very moving in many places, whether humorous, joyful, or passionately angry.

"I learn that all of my manuscripts have been rejected three or four times since I last heard. It is a nice thing to know that so many people are reading my books. That is one way of getting an audience." -- JS

"One very funny thing. Hotel clerks here [Monterey] are being instructed to tell guests that there is no Tortilla Flat. The Chamber of Commerce does not like my poor efforts, I guess. But there is one all right, and they know it." -- JS in the years before the Chamber of Commerce boosted Cannery Row as a tourist shrine

"I'm trying to write history while it is happening and I don't want to be wrong." -- JS before penning the Grapes of Wrath
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Monty J. Heying on October 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
This 900-page tome contains rare insights into Steinbeck's life and his views on writing and the creative process. Well worth the time if one is interested in these subjects.

The content is chiefly Steinbeck's letters; so he is the author, but editorial comments are carefully distributed throughout, along with occasional excerpts from related correspondence. This is a selection of correspondence initiated by Steinbeck, chosen and edited with loving care by Elaine, his third wife, and Robert Wallsten. This is the meat, the good stuff, including the intimacies he was willing to reveal to those closest to him.

What has been left out is as important as what was included; therefore Elaine's bias must be taken into account. To the extent possible, what is revealed is the Steinbeck that she wanted remembered. For example, I expected something of the highly public flirtation of Carol, Steinbeck's first wife, with Joseph Campbell, and of Campbell's influence on Steinbeck's writing style. There was no mention of Campbell nor the affair, which I find highly dubious, given how painful the matter was.(John's revenge, an academic told me, was to model a character in SWEET THURSDAY after Campbell.)
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