“What is your favorite Steinbeck novel?” That was the opening question on the recent visit to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. I answered first with The Grapes of Wrath, which seems like the answer a novice Steinbeck fan would give, but The Grapes of Wrath is probably my favorite book of any author. I remember reading it in high school and how the graphic details made me feel the story. I read other Steinbeck works after that, and while all were excellent, especially East of Eden, none felt as real to me.
I’m not alone, as this is the 75th anniversary of the book’s release, still as relevant as when it was first published, as the story of hardship and struggle remains true. The National Steinbeck Center is much more than The Grapes of Wrath, highlighting the life and all works of John Steinbeck. It’s interactive, designed to appeal to a wide range of ages, and is just the right size for a visit on the way to or from the Monterey area. I was inspired to read books that I hadn’t previously considered, re-read ones that I’d already forgotten, and to look at life with fresh eyes. “New York is not America,” Steinbeck told friends before starting a cross-country road trip with his dog Charley to learn and see more of real American life. He took Charley not only for companionship but because it was disarming to see a man traveling alone with his dog.
The most moving and attention-grabbing exhibit is part of the 75th celebration, featuring postcards mailed in answering the questions on inspiration and what motivates people to keep going during hard times or what brings joy when things are tough. (To participate, download a card from the center’s website.) The Joads kept moving toward their dream of a better life, which rings true for many people today, especially families of farm workers in the Salinas area. The postcards on display reflected that, mostly written and colored by children, and while some were simple, others expressed more.
Planning Your Visit
Admission isn’t expensive, and they even have end of day discounts for a quick visit. Another tip is to use this coupon on SFBayFun for up to $5 off per ticket (the coupon can be used for up to six people). The museum can easily be seen in a little over an hour – or you could spend more time watching film and interacting with more in depth features, but don’t let a lack of time prevent a visit.
The 2014 Steinbeck Festival
The annual Steinbeck Festival is May 2-4 and proves to be top notch with the 75th celebration of The Grapes of Wrath. There is an opening night Speakeasy, a barn party, and more. Also as part of a year-long Grapes of Wrath celebration, a traveling event to hear and highlight related current-day experiences is underway, with stops in Washington D.C. today, May 2-4 in Salinas during the annual festival, June 19 at UC Berkeley, Oct. 16 in Los Angeles, and ending in Modesto this fall.
Upon returning from my visit, I picked up Travels with Charley, which I’d never even heard of prior to my visit. So, which is your favorite Steinbeck book?