Sea of Cortez

December 5, 1941:

John Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez is Published

Sea of CortezOn this day, John Steinbeck‘s nonfiction book The Sea of Cortez is published. The book reflects Steinbeck’s serious study of marine biology. He also uses his knowledge of the sea and its creatures in creating Doc, the marine biologist character in Cannery Row (1945).

Steinbeck was born and raised in California’s Salinas Valley, where his father was a county official and his mother a former schoolteacher. Steinbeck was a good student and president of his senior class in high school. He attended Stanford intermittently between 1920 and 1925, then moved to New York City, where he worked as a manual labourer and a journalist while writing stories and novels. His first two novels were not successful.

He married Carol Henning (whom he later divorced) and moved to Pacific Grove in 1930, where his father gave him a house and a small income while he continued to write. His third novel, Tortilla Flat (1935), was a critical and financial success, as were subsequent novels In Dubious Battle (1935) and Of Mice and Men (1937), both of which offered social commentaries on injustices of various types. His 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

His work after World War II, including Cannery Row and The Pearl, continued to offer social criticism but became more sentimental. Steinbeck tried his hand at movie scripts in the 1940s, writing successful films like Forgotten Village (1941) and Viva Zapata (1952). His book Travels with Charlie (1962) describes his travels across the United States in a camper truck with his poodle, Charlie, and his encounters with a fragmented America. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in 1962 and died in New York on December 20, 1968.

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Doris Lessing 1919 ~ 2013

Doris LessingThis year has not been kind to the reading community as yet another Author passes away.

Doris Lessing, Author of “The Golden Notebook” and “The Children of Violence” series, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize passed away on Sunday aged 94.  The exact cause of her death is not known, and her Family have requested privacy.

Our condolences are with them at this time.

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Canadian Alice Munro, 82 yrs old, is awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature.

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Earlier this year, the Canadian short story writer Alice Munro announced her retirement, at the age of 82: “It’s nice to go out with a bang,” she said when she won a Canadian book award for Dear Life. Now she has won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. The dramatic and unexpected coincidence – “I knew I was in the running, yes, but I never thought I would win” – is like the plot of one of Munro’s own stories: understated and elegantly structured. The Nobel is a bang by anyone’s standards.

Munro was born in 1931 and grew up in Wingham, Ontario, where her mother was a schoolteacher and her father a fur and poultry farmer. Her early compulsion to write is captured in the story “Cortes Island” from the collection The Love of a Good Woman (1998):

It seemed that I had to be a writer as well as a reader. I bought a school notebook and tried to write – did write, pages that started off authoritatively and then went dry, so that I had to tear them out and twist them up in hard punishment and put them in the garbage can. I did this over and over again until I had only the notebook cover left. Then I bought another notebook and started the whole process once more. The same cycle – excitement and despair, excitement and despair.  

Alice Munro is acclaimed for her finely tuned storytelling, which is characterized by clarity & psychological realism.

If you have never read any of Ms. Munro’s work, here are a few suggestions you may enjoy investigating for yourself:

Best-of collections:

Selected Stories (1996)

Vintage Munro (2004)

Carried Away: A Selection of Stories (2006)

Stand-alone books:

Dance of the Happy Shades (1968)

Lives of Girls and Women (1971)

Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (1974)

The Beggar Maid (1978)

The Moons of Jupiter (1982)

The Progress of Love (1986)

Friend of My Youth (1990)

Open Secrets (1994)

The Love of a Good Woman (1998)

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001)

Runaway (2004)

The View from Castle Rock (2006)

Too Much Happiness(2009)

Dear Life (2012)

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Review: Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize ~ Sean B. Carroll

Brave GeniusThe never-before-told account of the intersection of some of the most insightful minds of the 20th century, and a fascinating look at how war, resistance, and friendship can catalyze genius.

In the spring of 1940, the aspiring but unknown writer Albert Camus and budding scientist Jacques Monod were quietly pursuing ordinary, separate lives in Paris. After the German invasion and occupation of France, each joined the Resistance to help liberate the country from the Nazis, ascended to prominent, dangerous roles, and were very lucky to survive. After the war and through twists of circumstance, they became friends, and through their passionate determination and rare talent they emerged as leading voices of modern literature and biology, each receiving the Nobel Prize in their respective fields.

Drawing upon a wealth of previously unpublished and unknown material gathered over several years of research, Brave Genius tells the story of how each man endured the most terrible episode of the twentieth century and then blossomed into extraordinarily creative and engaged individuals. It is a story of the transformation of ordinary lives into exceptional lives by extraordinary events–of courage in the face of overwhelming adversity, the flowering of creative genius, deep friendship, and of profound concern for and insight into the human condition.

4 Thumbs-UpThis book is a definite departure from the usual works of this Author, in which he normally addresses the subject of biology; evolutionary biology to be exact, but in this case he has turned his writing skills to history.  This book covers the stories of Albert Camus, Nobel Prize-winning writer / philosopher and political activist, and also that of Jacques Monod, Nobel Prize-winning biologist and French resistance fighter.  I started reading this book not having any real knowledge of either Camus or Monod, but by the time I turned the final page the Author had done an outstanding job of expanding my education in this area.

Before the reader picks this up they need to be aware that it is a book of two distinct halves.  The first half of the book centres on Occupied France during World War II and gives an in-depth look, from the French viewpoint as to what life was like living under German rule. It is apparent that the Author spent a great deal of time researching this aspect of the book as they cover in great detail the extent to which the occupation affected France, and also the circumstances that led to some of the occurrences that took place.  This aspect alone makes it a great and informative read for anyone that has only a basic understanding of this era in history as it pertained to France.   The Author gives the reader a personal look at these times, and from this they will be able to pick out the influence that World War II had on Camus and his future writing.  The second half focuses on the work of Camus and Monod after the end of the war.  Again it is very detailed and shows the reader, once again, the amount of time to research that the Author has invested during their writing of this historical chronicle.

The book is a very well documented and worthwhile the read and, although the Author paints the picture of both these men with a very broad brush, he still manages to convey the qualities that made these men great; that is the work they carried out beyond their own vocations.  The Author also manages to stir in the reader feelings of admiration for both Camus and Monod to such an extent that sadness follows when we read about their deaths.

It is a long, very long read and due to the in-depth descriptions of activities taking place it can take some time to navigate; this makes it definitely not a book that can be delved into and absorbed within a few days, it needs time to be taken over it to be able to process everything that can be learnt from its pages.  There were also some areas of the book that left me wondering as to the reactions and feelings of other persons mentioned, but these were just little annoyances in, what otherwise, is a very educating read.

I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in, or wanting to learn about Camus, Monod, and the way world was in their lifetime; it was would also be of great interest to anyone who enjoys a good non-fiction book that is slightly different from others in the genre.  Readers of World War II history and philosophy may also enjoy this book.

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