So you can read my books

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Ghost of John Steinbeck here.

Hemingway grumbled at my table here at Meilori's earlier tonight.

"How dare Milo James Fowler not list his name with those great writers born before 1900?" he growled.

I laughed.

His short stories and all of Faulkner's writing should be remembered.

I, on the other hand, did much to deserve my loneliness.

All great and precious things are lonely.

I told my physician before I died that I felt in my flesh that the spirit did not go on. I was wrong.  Not for the first time.

But I was right about one thing when I told the Nobel Committee, "Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope."

After the Trade Towers and today's blood-drenched headlines, you know all too well how Man can be a hazard.

But how can he be our hope?

It is up to you.

Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.

To do that, you must truly see those around you. I wonder how many people I looked at during my life and never truly saw.

The clue to how to do that is in the Hebrew language.

The Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice.

It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.'

I was a war correspondent during WWII. All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal. I was wounded badly and healed my hurts as I always did with writing.

It usually worked. But not all the time.
The best writing I did was when my best friend, Ed Ricketts, was still alive. I frequently took small trips with Ed along the California coast to give me time off from my writing and to collect biological specimens, which Ed sold for a living.

I moved away from California but just knowing Ed was still roaming the California wilderness made me smile.

In May 1948 I traveled to California on an emergency trip to be with Ed, who had been seriously injured when his car was struck by a train. Ed died hours before I arrived.

On returning home from this devastating trip, I was confronted by Gwyn, my wife, who told me she wanted a divorce for vague, nonsense reasons.

Even now, I can see the smile on her face when she told me, seconds after I had sobbed of Ed's death.

Even now.

It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.

Ed. Gwen.
When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you've got two new people.

I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found. I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping,

worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I've lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.

I have said much ... and nothing. You friends of Roland's are writers, so I will leave you with this:

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . .

Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . .

There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions:

Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?

Man has only one story.

All novels, all poetry, are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil.

And it occurs to me that evil must constantly re-spawn, while good is immortal.

Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.

And I am happy to report that in the war between reality and romance, reality is not the stronger.


  1. Hemingway's life, like most of ours, had twists and turns, some good, some bad. He just lived larger because he could, embracing everything passionately at least for a short time.

    We are always telling the story of our human passage in this, the reality that confronts us. Is it our attempt at understanding? I think so.

  2. D.G.:
    Yes, you're right, of course. What kind of lives would we lead if our circumstances placed us at the head of a flood wave of events and publicity? Steinbeck had a fascinating life as well because he placed himself in the crucible of America's problems.

    We speak in our novels of ourselves not of our times I think. Take two writers, send them to the same event, and they will describe themselves not the event. Great comment. :-)