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Travels with Charley and Later Novels 1947-1962 (review)
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With Travels with Charley and Later Novels 1947-1962, readers will be reminded of, or perhaps introduced to, the variety of fictions John Steinbeck wrote in these years. Those familiar with Steinbeck's works should be happy to see this collection included in the Library of America, which issues authoritative editions of American literature in attractive and sturdy books. This volume includes The Wayward Bus, Burning Bright, Sweet Thursday, The Winter of Our Discontent, and Travels with Charley in Search of America. The primary texts are followed by a detailed chronology of Steinbeck's life, a brief but clarifying "Note on the Texts," and explanatory notes for the individual books.

This volume of Steinbeck's works follows three previous ones by Library of America: Novels and Stories 1932-1937 (1994), The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings 1936-1941 (1996), and Novels 1942-1952 (2001). These can now be purchased separately or in combination from the publisher's website, the first three as "The John Steinbeck Library" and all four as "Collected Works 1932-1962." All are edited by Robert DeMott, who is joined by co-editor Brian Railsback on the fourth volume and by Elaine Steinbeck as special consultant for the first two. The second volume provides the important corrected edition of The Grapes of Wrath that restores passages originally omitted by error or censorship; this corrected text has become the version adopted in other recent editions.

In conformity with the Library of America's approach to making a scholarly volume without the secondary material found in critical editions, three basic editorial pieces follow the texts: "Chronology," "Note on the Texts," and "Notes." All four Steinbeck volumes contain the chronology, which resembles those found in Library of America's editions of other writers. This publisher's chronologies tend to be longer and richer in detail than other "about-the- author" encapsulations common in so many editions of American literature, and Steinbeck's chronology, extending to nineteen pages, is no exception. The "Note on the Texts" briefly details the genesis of each of the five books, Steinbeck's writing process and abandoned titles, the dates of publication, and other aspects of how the works originally appeared. Also included here is the list of corrections, but unlike the substantive corrections of the 1996 version of The Grapes of Wrath this list contains only 31 typographical errors changed from the original printings. The notes are as thorough as they are clarifying, explaining the many references to literature, history, popular culture, and more; these specific references, from "Teen-age Angel" to Ovid, give Steinbeck's works of this period part of their rich texture.

The "later novels" designation is not strictly chronological. Most likely intended to balance long and short novels, East of Eden is included in the third volume, Novels 1942-1952, even though The Wayward Bus and Burning Bright were written and published earlier. "Later novels" is therefore a loose designation, but it does draw attention to the fact that different approaches to categorizing Steinbeck's fiction will have different outcomes and implications. Do his "big books," The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, mark changes in his career? Do historical or personal events provide the guide to understanding the trajectory of his fiction? Alternatively, does one think of his novels' themes and ideas, (mythic) topography and environment, or literary modes and styles as the most important way of grouping the parts that make up this broad corpus? Sweet Thursday is a "late novel," but obviously also a Monterey peninsula novel possessing a complex, or "late," relationship to its predecessors, Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat. The valley stories and the sea stories, the worker novels, the play-novelettes, the travel narratives: Steinbeck's works invite all kinds of groupings.

The question of inclusion and exclusion must be posed. From the Library of America's collected works are missing Cup of Gold on one end and The Short Reign of Pippin IV on the other. This choice might not shock readers, as Cup of Gold has long been considered an early, immature novel of lesser quality than what follows; Pippin, as well, traditionally has been considered a minor work. But what...

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