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    Norman (1988) (1988)
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I've been a fan of Steinbecks writing including to a lesser point the writings of his 2 sons for decades. The oldest son Thomas died in late 2016. This author, Benson, wrote the lengthy biography of the Nobel Prize winner. It tells the difficulty of publishing even if you have previously published to some acclaim. This book however is for the fan or scholar of John Steinbeck rather than the casual reader of his books.
While Benson's biography on Steinbeck was outstanding (and is considered the standard account of Steinbeck's life) this book is little more than a narrative of that effort. Very loosely connected to Steinbeck at all.
For any reader remotely interested in the trials and tribulations so frequently associated with writing a book, in this case a biography, this book is a must.
Jackson Benson spent fifteen years writing the definitive biography of John Steinbeck that originally began as a scholarly critique of his works. He was a young professor of American literature at a provincial university in 1970 and felt it part of his job to write about American authors: "I had no idea of writing a biography or of spending a major portion of my life doing so. No one in his right mind sets out to spend fifteen years researching and writing a book-it just sneaks up on you." With this confession the reader is drawn into a wonderful account of his efforts to "save" Steinbeck from what he saw as unjust criticism and general academic denigration.
The book is unusual for a variety of reasons. First, it is highly readable which is rare given the authors scholarly and academic credentials. Benson has a marvelous sense of humor and doesn't hesitate to spell out his own shortcomings and lapses that many times resulted in dire consequences of his own making. His original naivete and ill defined writing plan led to a variety of incidents that are described in a humorous and candid manner.
Second, the author doesn't hesitate to candidly reveal the myriad fears, frustrations, doubts and ever-present economic problems that dogged him throughout the writing process. In reading of his countless setbacks I am amazed he completed the book. His dedication, perseverance, resourcefulness and integrity are both amazing and heartening.
Third, this is a rare instance in which a biographer writes about himself. It is actually an autobiography of the biographer and is done with such grace and candor and style that it is as artful as the biography. This book stands alone as a masteful literary accomplishment notwithstanding its sister biography.
The book is a must have for writers, wannabe writers, researchers, or readers interested in biography, authbiography or the art and craft of writing. It is a unique insight into the writing of the definitive biography of a world literary figure whose centennial birthday is being celebrated throughout this year. The Joads would have been proud.
....especially during the first part of this book, and there seemed to be one misadventure after another, especially with his interviews, and I got tired of those too....and then it dawned on me (and I'm not at all certain the author would agree) that he was not only researching Steinbeck's life, but stumbling into parts of it.
Take his interview with Gwyn, Steinbeck's second wife. For me, what clearly emerged during the author's confrontation with her storytelling ability, her extraverted extravagance, and her occasional bullying, was that Benson was being made to feel exactly how Steinbeck would have felt, especially toward the end of the marriage. And the same with getting lost at times in New York, and feeling "out of touch" here and there, and worrying about bad reviews: I think the biographer actually became the subject of his biography a little, sharing from his own rather humble and introverted point of view what Steinbeck couldn't or wouldn't bring himself to write publicly about regarding his own private struggles, doubts, confusions. What a gift, all the way around.
Why does Mr. Benson pretend to be anything more just another person making conjecture about the "ghost", Bruce the Boss, has an album of words and music devoted to Tom Joad's ghost. Does Bruce need a Ph.D. to make up songs about Steinbeck's masterwork. Come on, I could just as well say I'm conducting investigative journalism on Huck Finn.