I just finished Steinbeck's Cannery Row, and (I guess this is a confession) it's one of the few books I've read since college that I actually felt the need to study. I found myself wishing that I could discuss it in a classroom, instead of just doing web searches trying to figure out more about it. I'm not going to sit here and write a treatise on Cannery Row, although I'm sure every moment of that would be both fascinating and scholarly (naturally), but I will say this: everything I read about Cannery Row came back to the theme of loneliness. And having finished the book, I'm in complete agreement with that assessment. Though there were moments that made me laugh (when Mack and the boys go frog hunting, for one), at the end of the book, I was just sad. For everyone. And (since I'm not in a secular classroom discussion) I think that's just what you get when you don't have Christ. Steinbeck's characters didn't really have anything (or anyone) to live for. I doubt he did either. He talks about the morality of the prostitutes and the philosophy of the town drunks and the goodness of the marine biologist who carries out abortions on the side, but at the end of the day, there was a gaping hole where there should've been hope. Without which, there is nothing but a deeply profound loneliness.
That said, Steinbeck's writing was fabulous (he's not Steinbeck for nothing), and I now want to go to the ocean. Preferably at sunrise or when the tide is changing. And while I'm glad I read Cannery Row, since it truly is a classic in its own right, I'm not feeling any particular need to reread it. Pretty much ever. But applause to Steinbeck for an intriguing and beautifully written read.
PS Yes, this is one of the books that I can "actually brag about reading". Every once in a while I strive to be intellectual. msf