20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Check Out All These Cool Fish!
I finally finished Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver a few weeks ago. I had planned to hit Don Quixote next, but, for reasons too complicated and too boring to recount, I opted for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I’m a little over half way through and I have to say that I’m getting more and more resentful with each page. I really wanted to like this book, but, so far I don’t.
First Edition of Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat
The story starts off well enough with a mysterious sea monster attacking ships, but bogs down in Verne’s love affair with marine biology. It’s kind of like ready Moby Dick, which is a pretty cool story, but having to slog through page after page of treatises on different whales and their respective anatomies. Hey Jules Verne, if I wanted to know so much about sea life, I would have been an ichthyologist. Perhaps if he had stuck with more sweeping description and less minutiae I would be less bitter.
On that note, I put down Verne and picked up Tortilla Flat by Steinbeck at the recommendation of a friend. I posted a couple of months ago about The Grapes of Wrath – if you don’t feel like checking that post out, just know that Grapes vaulted into my top 5 books of all time and I don’t even know what two of my top five are! Maybe that makes it a top 3. For the record Lord of the Rings and Song of Ice and Fire are my top 2.
Tortilla Flat delivers that same kind of feel as Grapes of Wrath. Set in Monteray, California at the end of World War I, Steinbeck delves into the lives of the paisanos just returned from war.
From Tortilla Flat Wikipedia Entry:
Above a town of Monterey on the California coast lies the shabby district of Tortilla Flat, inhabited by a loose gang of jobless locals of Mexican descent (who typically claim Spanish descent) whose riotous adventures are compared by Steinbeck to the exploits of the Knights of King Arthur.
Soft-hearted, unquestioningly loyal to one another, and in complete disregard of social conventions and expectations, the gutsy paisanos of Tortilla Flat cheerfully reside in a world of idyllic poverty. Steinbeck gives a description of a paisano, who according to Steinbeck speaks English with a paisano accent, and Spanish with a paisano accent: “He is a mixture of Spanish, Indian, Mexican and assorted Caucasian bloods. His ancestors have lived in California for a hundred years or two…. He lives in that uphill district above the town of Monterey called Tortilla Flat, though it isn’t flat at all.” Most of the action which takes place in the novel is in the idyllic time of Steinbeck’s own late teenage and young adult years, shortly after WW I (1919, approximately).
It’s a quick read and highly entertaining. I enjoy the way Steinbeck explores the ability of men to rationalize what would otherwise be considered reprehensible actions. If you haven’t read this, do yourself a favor and check this out. In the meantime, it’s back to 20,000 Leagues for me. Hopefully the story will emerge more frequently than the Nautilus does.
Inside Captain Nemo's Floating Man Cave