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In The News
In an article on American optimism entitled, "It's Something Exceptionalist," journalist John Balzar begins his column with this reflection: "One thing you can count on: When times get tough, Americans will crowd around a ready optimist. Optimism is woven into the very fabric of Old Glory, an essential part of our self-made, self-sustaining mythology." After commenting on the hopes for a better Iraq emerging out of war, he concludes by quoting Steinbeck: "In an essay titled 'Paradox and Dreams,' John Steinbeck described the American dream as 'our vague yearnings toward what we wish we were and hope we may be: wise, just, compassionate, and noble.'"
"For our national political debate to bloom and bear fruit," Balzar continues, "for it to be worthy of all that is at stake, these wishes and hopes will have to be nourished. The choices offered to voters will have to acknowledge, as Steinbeck added, 'the fact that we have this dream at all is perhaps an indication of its possibility.'"
And, Yes, He Was a Great Communicator
Commenting on Ronald Reagan's ability to "address the public directly," writer Geoffrey Nunberg notes that Reagan's speech was drawn from the "sentimental populism of the [End Page 187] movies and plays of the 1930s and '40s. That's where Mr. Reagan acquired his predilection for polysyndeton, the rhetorical term for the piling on of 'and' and 'or'...These rolling conjunctions evoke the pattern that writers of the '30s and '40s used when they wanted to evoke the artless effusions of the common man. You hear Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath. Or Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life.... Mr. Reagan's models are out of reach for us. We make allowances for his rhetoric in the same way we made allowances for Frank Capra's, as natural for its age. But nobody can make movies like those anymore."
In Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage, Joseph E. Persico notes that Steinbeck said of FDR "[He] simply liked mystery, subterfuge, and indirect tactics...for their own sake."
As reported in the LA Times in January (and in several subsequent articles and on a Times website), SJSU Steinbeck Fellow Jon Christensen and Stanford professor of marine biology William F. Gilly retraced Steinbeck's and Ricketts's trip to the Sea of Cortez, setting sail in March 2004. "The idea is to compare their observations and freshly collected species of marine life with those plucked from the sea and logged 64 years ago." The boat, "docked in Morro Bay, is more functional than fancy. 'It's like going to a picnic in a dump truck,' [owner Frank] Donahue said, greeting all comers with a barrage of jokes. He lives aboard the 73-foot Gus D, named after his late father, and is proud of the sturdy vessel he has taken all over the Pacific. 'She can go 12,000 miles on a tank of gas. That would get you to Indonesia.'"
"With the trip's $90,000 basic costs covered by grants from private donors and nonprofit groups, Gilly is trying to line up sponsors for food and amenities. North Coast Brewing Co. in Mendocino has pledged 50 to 70 cases of beer in keeping with the spirit of the original trip." (Important beer data from the trip: 45 of 70 cases of beer were consumed, or approximately 1080 [End Page 188] beers in 8 weeks for 8 people, 2.5 per day. On Steinbeck's and Ricketts's trip, the average was 8.5 beers a day!)
An article in Book magazine notes sales for classics, "How They Sell Now (Classic Bestsellers)." Of Mice and Men ranks 7th with 219,000 copies sold...