The Son

This weekend our town opened the doors to our new library.  It was a gray-skied, drizzling, winter day, but no matter.  Check out this crowd.


John Steinbeck lived in our little town for a few important literary years:  he wrote OF MICE AND MEN and THE GRAPES OF WRATH just up the hill from my house.

It seems fitting that his son, Thomas Steinbeck, open our new house of books.  Thom spoke for an hour to a standing-room-only crowd.  He started by documenting the world history of libraries, and told stories about how he often escaped his dysfunctional family and skipped school, hiding out in the local library.

Sound familiar, anyone?

Truant officers, he laughed, didn’t know you weren’t supposed to be in the library.

Thom is a writer.  Imagine following in such iconic footsteps.  He says he doesn’t read novels, he enjoys history and biographies, and he writes his novels based on what he’s learned.  You can find more about his books here.  Like his father, he bases most of his stories in California.  He does not, however, feel like he’s competing.  John Steinbeck won both the Pulitzer and the Nobel.  Who in their right mind, he said, would think they could compete with that?  One of these, he said, was more than enough for one family.

When he was 5 or 6 years old, Thom asked his father what he did for a living.  While his friends’ fathers put on suits and bow ties and carried briefcases out their doors in the morning, his did not.  His father came down for breakfast in his pajamas and went right back up to his room for the day.  He figured he must be permanently out of work.

One day the boy asked, What do you do?

And his father answered, I reconnect people with their humanity.


26 thoughts on “The Son

    1. Teri

      He had so many anecdotes about his dad — how he sang to his dogs, how he had a suit named Dorian Gray and told her how nice she looked before putting her on — but these few words about his work will stick with me: “I reconnect people with their humanity.” And that he didn’t consider his writing an art.

    1. Teri

      I thought Thom Steinbeck was going to read from his new book. While that would have been just fine, I was ecstatic when he spent the time talking about reading and libraries and his father’s quirks. Such a treat.

  1. Sarah W

    Oh, Teri, what a beautiful library and what a miracle it is to open one in these economic times! Your community must be a wonderful one in which to be a librarian.

    And I love John Steinbeck’s answer and his Dorian Gray suit—no wonder his son became a writer!

    1. Teri

      Sarah, you would not believe this library. It is truly something special, with lots of glass making it feel like you’re outside. I wanted to take a bunch of photos — the children’s area is particularly fab — but there were too many people!

      Plus, it was funny to me how loud it was in there. I’ve never heard so much conversation in a library. 🙂

  2. macdougalstreetbaby

    Look at all that light! Talk about a happy place!
    And, yes, I love that answer. What a beautiful way to see writing.

  3. Lyra

    That library is gorgeous.

    “I reconnect people with their humanity.”
    Wouldn’t that be an amazing thing for our books to do? Dream the dream.

  4. lauramaylene

    Your new library is so beautiful! I love all the open space and the glass. It feels very bright and clean and inviting. And what a perfect place to host big literary events…I hope you end up reporting back on whatever you attend there in the future.

    1. Teri

      It was funny when he started reading — he looked out on all the people, sitting and standing, and said he can usually fit his reading audiences on his lap. Ha!

  5. amyg

    great photo…it captures it all. and steinbeck wrote up the hill from you? did we know this? that seems like a particularly important detail…in some way.

    i can’t imagine choosing a career when your parent achieved iconic status doing it. it’s one thing to have an editor-censor hanging over your shoulder in the form of family, it’s quite another to have an nobel-pulitzer in the same space.

    1. Teri

      I knew John Steinbeck lived here for a few years, but it’s funny — I never imagined he wrote a book here. Strange, right? I guess I assumed he did most of his writing down in Monterey, Doc Ricketts and all that. But no, he had a house here in the hills around 1938 and wrote 2 of his greatest books in that house. I learned this detail this past Saturday!

      Amy, you would have liked when he talked about his father being shunned by his town and his community for his writing. Kind of like William Styron who was basically run out of Newport News on a rail after he wrote LAY DOWN IN DARKNESS and revealed some local secrets. Of course years later, after their deaths, Steinbeck and Styron were embraced by their hometowns and used as tourist lures — but not while they were living. Sad, but true.

      He said that when John Steinbeck lived in Monterey, the sheriff came to visit and asked, Do you own a gun? When John said no, the sheriff told him to get one. And Thom said his dad never ate in a restaurant with his back to the door. People were that angry with him, for his thoughts and his books.

  6. lizisilver

    Teri, I wish this library could run for president; the photos (such a stunning building! so crowded! the link of generations!) fills me with hope for our future.

    Averil’s right: you do take us to the most interesting places. Your involvement with the literary community goes way beyond your four walls.

  7. Downith

    Any time a new library opens it is cause for celebration, especially in these days of library closures. And yes, Teri, you take us to the best places.

  8. Angela LaForest

    How lucky you are…our library is like a tomb. But its okay…My mind gets lost in the titles anyway…I always end up in the history or biography sections. lol

    1. Teri Post author

      Our old library was a tomb too. I rarely went to it. In fact, sad to say, I went to the library one town over! No more…..

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